Article by Julie Hurewitz
In the restaurant industry, “going green” can mean many different things. Energy and water usage, food waste, packaging, sourcing – these are just a few aspects of restaurant sustainability. We are increasingly seeing that a restaurant’s broader sustainability efforts influence customer decisions. According to Oracle’s Restaurant Scene 2022 global survey, 87% of consumers said that transparency from restaurants about their sustainability initiatives is essential. From global fast-food chains like McDonalds, which opened the first quick-service restaurant designed to be Net Zero Energy in the U.S. in 2020, to local bakeries like Bread Alone, which became the world’s first carbon-neutral bakery in 2022, sustainability is gaining traction in the food service industry. These industry leaders are developing innovative ways to utilize electrification and waste reduction, combating climate change. This piece can serve as an introduction to understanding how and why restaurants should be working toward creating a smaller carbon footprint.
“We all need to electrify our lives as much as possible and then produce from renewable resources all the electricity that we consume,”
– Bread Alone CEO
Energy usage in restaurants is incredibly demanding and costly, contributing to significant greenhouse has (GHG) emissions. Kitchen equipment, HVAC, and lighting are a restaurant’s most significant sources of energy consumption. Reducing energy consumption is good for the planet, customer perception, and a restaurant’s bottom line. For example, cooking appliances alone can account for almost 35% of the average Restaurant’s energy costs. Energy-efficient equipment can lower these bills by as much as 75%.
Another day, another drought for states like California, Texas, and New Mexico. For this reason, water conservation is increasingly a pillar of restaurant sustainability. As we continue to address the pressing issue of water security, restaurants will need to develop efficient practices that mitigate risk against future water regulations. Conserving water not only creates resiliency in restaurant operations, but it directly saves money on water bills. Something as simple as a leaky faucet can add to staggering losses on a restaurant’s water bill over time.
Believe it or not, the World Resources Institute reported that approximately one-third of all food produced in the world intended for human consumption is wasted. This loss equates to $940 billion annually and contributes to 8% of global GHG emissions. Moving towards zero waste in restaurants will not only ensure a reduction in GHG emissions but also mitigate financial loss.
An environmentally friendly menu is one of the most effective ways to drive a restaurant’s sustainability goals. The food selection at a restaurant can hold a significant amount of embodied carbon. Embodied carbon means that food’s carbon footprint is more than just a piece of poultry on your plate. It is the entire lifecycle of a food, including all the greenhouse gas emissions produced by growing, rearing, farming, processing, transporting, storing, cooking, and disposing of that food.
Here are a few ways that restaurants can manage this:
- Consider sourcing ingredients from local and organic suppliers. The farther that food has to travel to your plate, the more greenhouse gas emissions associated with it.
- Serve fewer animal-based products. Meat, cheese, and eggs have the highest carbon footprint. Restaurants like Taco Bell are rolling out innovative meat alternatives and allowing customers to swap out all animal proteins with vegetable ones.
- Give customers a chance to make informed food choices. Labeling menu items with accurate GHG emissions associated with that food demonstrates a commitment to transparency and gives climate-conscious consumers an option to choose a more environmentally friendly diet.
There are many reasons why tracking and reducing greenhouse gas emissions in a restaurant is a smart business move. Consumers are increasingly climate conscious. The world continues to experience volatile gas prices and reliability. Utility costs continue to rise. At the same time, cities and states are making ambitious laws to address greenhouse gas emissions. Regulatory agencies are now focusing more on the environmental impact of food service, which will lead to stringent policies affecting customers. New York City is one of many cities that are banning new natural gas hookups in restaurant kitchens in order to fight climate change. Restaurants must prepare for the transition to electrification, local sourcing, and renewable energy. Green Places is here to help in that transition.
If you are a restaurant looking to reduce your carbon footprint, GreenPlaces can be your dedicated source to assist you in that journey. The first step in reducing your carbon footprint is understanding the total greenhouse gas emissions associated with a restaurant’s operations. We will help you measure the carbon emissions in your operations and consider actions to address those emissions.