sustainable restaurants

Sustainable Restaurant Association Aids Greener Hospitality

Rachel Lark - January 8, 2023

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Food waste is a significant issue that’s been on an upward trend for years. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), global food loss and waste amount to 25% to 35% of all food production. But organizations like the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) are transitioning businesses to greener practices and reducing restaurants’ environmental impact.

Americans, in particular, waste about 30% to 40% of their food supply, accounting for the most extensive material waste in the nation’s overflowing municipal landfills. The U.S. accumulated 292.4 million tons of landfill waste in 2018 — 4.9 pounds per person daily.

Consumers Drive the Demand for Sustainable Hospitality

Consumers have grown increasingly aware of the climate crisis, demanding governments and corporations adopt sustainable measures to aid eco-friendly lifestyles.

Worldwide, 85% of consumers have shifted towards sustainable purchasing behaviors, with 60% listing sustainability as their leading buying factor. 

The restaurant industry isn’t immune to these preferences. In fact, 66% of patrons want restaurants to limit food waste, while 43% are willing to spend more to eat at eco-friendly establishments.

In another survey by the National Restaurant Association, 38% of respondents said they’d visit a restaurant that serves locally-grown food and products over those who don’t. An additional 30% prefer organic ingredients.

It’s safe to say that consumers have driven the directive for restaurants to adopt sustainable practices. Of course, doing so could be a daunting task for any restauranteur. Fortunately, the SRA provides resources and support to assist food service managers in their efforts.

Sustainable Restaurant Association on a Mission

The United Kingdom-based Sustainable Restaurant Association is a global campaign that works to advance a sustainable hospitality sector. The SRA partners with all sub-niches of the food industry and supply chain, forging a more eco-friendly food movement. 

The SRA delivers the following three programs that help support and define sustainability for restaurants:

  • Food Made Good: Delivering a quiz and restaurant sustainability report as a starting point toward sustainable restaurant practices, focusing on food sourcing and the impact on people and the planet
  • One Planet Plate: A global campaign that addresses issues related to the food system, offering a platform for chefs to interact and share how they’re improving their food choices with diners
  • Su-Eatable Life: An ongoing project that encourages European citizens to adopt sustainable, healthier eating habits

The SRA’s programs have significantly helped the food service and hospitality industry become more sustainable. Since its launch in 2010 with 50 members, the SRA has reached over 10,000 food service sites worldwide. 

8 Ways to Make Your Restaurant Greener

Restaurant owners and managers interested in transitioning to a sustainable eatery can follow the following eight suggestions. 

1. Minimize Food Waste

Restaurants should optimize their inventory using the first-in, first-out (FIFO) technique — placing items with the nearest expiration dates in the front and the longest-lasting items toward the back. 

Integrating an inventory management system is another way restaurant owners can track their products more efficiently. Inventory management software allows managers to review their stock and buy more items without excess. 

If restaurants can’t use all their inventory by the expiration date, they might consider donating it to a local food bank or shelter.

2. Reduce Food Packaging

Many restaurants send their patrons home with leftovers in foam or plastic containers, but these materials overflow landfills and take a long time to break down.

Instead, restauranteurs might choose sustainable food packaging made from biodegradable, recyclable, and reusable materials. For instance, containers made with bamboo fibers are a much greener alternative. 

Bamboo replenishes quickly without the need for fertilizers and pesticides. By using bamboo take-out containers, restaurants can help reduce deforestation and preserve our most precious natural resources.  

Restauranteurs and chefs should also store the kitchen’s perishables in durable and sustainable food packaging, such as wood, aluminum, glass, and recycled plastic. 

3. Buy Locally-Grown Foods

Restaurants can support their local communities by purchasing locally-grown food and additional products. 

There are several benefits of eating locally-grown food. In addition to boosting the regional agricultural economy, locally-grown food is typically free of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers commonly used in conventional farming. Therefore, those who serve local food products can rest assured that patrons eat the freshest, safest ingredients.  

Small-scale growers usually sell their products within 24 hours of picking them, reducing their exposure to bacterial contamination during traditional food transport.

Locally-grown food also has a much lower carbon footprint due to shorter transportation miles and fewer carbon emissions.

4. Introduce Plant-Based Offerings

According to a recent scientific study, plant-based diets positively impact the environment in the following ways:

  • Reduce land use and degradation by 76%
  • Eliminate 49% of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions
  • Decrease eutrophication — runoff of toxic agricultural chemicals — by 49%
  • Reduce green and blue water consumption by 21% and 14%

Optimizing your restaurant’s menu and adding more plant-based offerings will help your eatery shift toward greener practices. Customers will also enjoy the chance to savor new specialties with fresher, more sustainable ingredients.

5. Opt for QR Code Menus

During the height of the coronavirus pandemic, QR codes became increasingly popular to prevent the spread of germs. Now, more restaurants are using QR codes to deliver contactless menu alternatives to traditional printed menus. 

Patrons can quickly scan the QR code with their smartphones and automatically be directed to your establishment’s online menu. Restaurant managers can place a small sign on each table with the code.

In addition to being a more hygiene-conscious option, QR codes reduce paper waste accumulated from printed menus that may require constant updating. 

6. Recycle and Compost

Implement more stringent recycling rules at your restaurant to reduce landfill waste and protect ecosystems and wildlife. 

According to the environmental advocacy group Beyond Plastics, the U.S. only recycled 5% to 6% of all waste in 2021. Yet, recycling has many benefits, including reducing energy consumption, better efficiency, and money-saving opportunities. 

Additionally, restaurants might want to partner with local community gardens by composting leftover ingredients. Food waste creates nutrient-dense, organic soil for optimal plant growth. 

7. Purchase Energy-Efficient Equipment

From kitchen cooktops to bathroom toilets, restaurants should purchase energy-efficient equipment. Although they tend to be more expensive initially, they consume less energy and accrue ample savings on utility bills.

You might also consider purchasing second-hand or reclaimed equipment that works like new. These items tend to be less pricey than buying a brand-new appliance. 

Check that the equipment you’re buying is energy-efficient by looking for the ENERGY STAR label. 

8. Use Eco-Friendly Cleaners

A sustainable restaurant will want to use eco-friendly cleaning solutions. Standard cleaners often contain harsh chemicals that are harmful to the environment.

Green cleaning solutions are much more environmentally safe, using more natural ingredients that eliminate germs just as effectively.

Search for products that have eco-friendly labels like the Environmental Choice Program, Green Seal, or Greenguard.

Sustainable Restaurant Association Eco-friendly Outings

The Sustainable Restaurant Association works tirelessly to encourage more restauranteurs to become environmentally friendly. As more consumers become aware of human-induced impacts on the planet, restaurants that provide an eco-friendly environment are more apt to draw in business. 

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About the author

Rachel Lark

Rachel serves as the Assistant Editor of A true foodie and activist at heart, she loves covering topics ranging from veganism to off grid living.