Sustainability in restaurants means operating in a way that protects and preserves our natural resources. It could be conserving energy or water, or using more sustainable materials in the building and finishings.
A National Restaurant Association State of Restaurant Sustainability Report in 2018 found that 8 in 10 restaurants were using energy-efficient lighting, 6 in 10 use programmable thermostats, and 6 in 10 restaurant kitchens use start-up/shut-down schedules to reduce the energy drain of kitchen equipment.
When it comes to reducing food waste, roughly half track the amount of food waste their restaurant generates and more than ten percent compost food waste. Meanwhile, 72 percent of restaurant operators buy some packaging and supplies that contain recyclable material, while 56 percent buy supplies certified as compostable.
The opportunities are becoming too significant to ignore: attracting new clients, saving money in the long run, operating a business that runs more smoothly, and helping preserve natural resources all make sustainability measures worth their while.
Perhaps this is a good time to think differently about restaurants and sustainability. After all, private commercial property owners have exhibited a growing interest in developing zero-energy buildings and some are aiming for net-positive energy and water as well. What if restaurants borrowed some of the ideas from the built environment and used them for designing and constructing in their industry?
The Green Restaurant Association recognizes this need and has established Green Restaurant Certification standards. The purpose is to provide a transparent way to measure each restaurant’s environmental accomplishments while providing a pathway for the next steps each restaurant can take towards increased environmental sustainability.
The eight environmental categories in the standards include: water efficiency, waste reduction and recycling, sustainable durable goods and building materials, sustainable food, energy, reusables and environmentally preferable disposables, chemical and pollution reduction, and transparency and education.
One example is the Shoreline Grill at Salt Lake City’s Hogle Zoo. This restaurant earned high scores for energy, waste, and food, but has room for improvement in things like its building and education.
Another is The School in Rose Valley, in Rose Valley, Pennsylvania. It offers a seasonally and locally sourced lunch program, with meats that are pasture raised, organic milk from local grass-fed cows, and produce from organic and sustainable local farms. It even has pasture raised chickens on site that provide all of the eggs for the school. Naturally, it scores high on food, but it scores low on the building and on education.
This is where opportunity lies. We have an opportunity to seek net positive status in our restaurant buildings — all while sourcing more sustainable materials and saving energy, water, and costs.
These are just a few examples, but sustainability lessons exist all around us and they can be applied to current and future restaurants. We can look to examples in the built environment for ways to “green” our restaurants through regenerative building and innovation, while showcasing the synergies between environmental stewardship, social equity, and economic development. We need out-of-the-box thinking when it comes to our restaurants.