October 29, 2014

Industry trend: Sustainability

The restaurant industry is taking steps toward sustainability, says a survey recently released by the National Restaurant Association.From reducing water use to using recyclable products, interest in environmental sustainability is growing in the restaurant industry, according to a report issues by the National Restaurant Association.

The survey
The report, issued on Sept. 16, 2014 showed focus on sustainability efforts varied from establishment to establishment and between quick and full service operations. The survey asked restaurateurs about their recycling and composting, water conservation, energy efficiency, food donation and fryer oil protocol. The survey took place in January 2014 and covered 1,000 U.S. restaurants.

The results

Water conservation was a key effort in order to deal with widespread drought conditions in much of the country. Establishments were looking to reduce their water consumption by installing water-saving devices in the kitchen and staff-only areas as well as public areas such as bathrooms. The survey found that 29 percent of respondents installed aerators on faucets and 48 percent had installed waterless urinals or low-flush toilets. Other efforts include tank-less water heaters and motion-activated toilets or faucets.

Use of recycled materials such as cutlery, packaging, cups and napkins was also a focus. Around 60 percent of those surveyed said their establishments used products made from recycled materials. Only 40 percent claim to use compostable products.

With the high cost of energy it’s no wonder energy conservation was another important concern. Among the businesses surveyed, 37 percent reported they use EPA certified Energy Star-rated appliances. Around 54 percent said they use programmable HVAC thermostats while a mere 5 percent use solar panels. Compact fluorescent lighting, one of the easiest and least costly changes, was reportedly used by 63 percent of the establishments surveyed.

Waste reduction through composting, recycling, converting used fryer oil to biodiesel and other uses as well as tracking food waste and donating leftover food was another focus. Around 40 percent said they recycle plastic, glass or cans, and 66 percent recycle cardboard or paper. A total of 74 percent said they recycle fats, grease and oils. Tracking food waste it often the first step to sustainability as it allows the establishment to see their waste and then judge what steps need to be taken to improve their environmental footprint. About 75 percent of those surveyed said they track their food waste while only 22 percent donate leftover food to food banks or other charities and 17 percent use composting methods.

Quick service establishments were reported as more likely to donate leftover food, track food waste, use a tank-less water heater and use low-flush toilets or waterless urinals than full service establishments. The reported reasons each restaurateur made these changes range from cost-effectiveness to protecting resources as well as which ones were easier to implement.

Sustainability regulation 
The United Kingdom has gone so far as to create a sustainability rating system which “encourages all restaurants to get Sustainability Rated and show that they’re walking the walk as well as talking the talk.” This rating is provided by the Sustainable Restaurant Association, a not for profit organization that gives establishments a rating of one to three stars based on 14 areas of sustainability, including water saving, workplace resources, supply chain, energy efficiency and waste management.