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Changes restaurants need to make to be sustainable

The UK foodservice sector must turbo charge its efforts to tackle climate change and environmental damage through a set of three ambitious but achievable targets, according to a new report published by the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA).

Waiter in a restaurant. Photo credit: Pexels

Waiter in a restaurant. Photo credit: Pexels

The report, The Tastiest Challenge on the Planet, identifies pockets of progress on the big sustainability issues. However, it finds that the pace of change is nowhere near fast nor widespread enough. Andrew Stephen, Chief Executive of the SRA, said:

“The scale and urgency of the issues facing the planet are huge. We need to challenge what we call normal, or good enough in hospitality in the UK. While the industry is taking lots of small steps, they aren’t keeping pace with the scope of what is needed. It is no longer sufficient simply to talk about being a sustainable business without targeting bigger change on the biggest issues.”

The report evaluates the state of sustainability in the UK foodservice sector, including a review of what operators have done in 2018, an assessment of the pressing challenges ahead, it’s preparedness for tackling them, and a three-pronged action plan for the industry for 2019 and beyond.

A panel of experts, including food policy expert Professor Tim Lang of City, University of London (who is a patron of Sustain), and Nobel Prize winning climate scientist Professor Riccardo Valentini, provided the expertise in defining the actions the sector needs to take in the months and years ahead.

The SRA is challenging operators to act decisively now to reduce meat consumption and keep food on the plate and out of the bin.

Many of the chefs and business leaders interviewed for the report revealed that they were reluctant to dictate change, feeling more comfortable facilitating a movement. The SRA believes the time has come for a more proactive approach.

The potential benefits are huge. If foodservice reduced food waste by a quarter, it could cut its carbon emissions by just under a million tonnes a year (0.9Mt) – equivalent to grounding more than 2,000 London to New York return flights. And, as the World Resources Institute and WRAP reported recently, there’s also a massive financial incentive, as the average return on investment in food waste reduction programmes coming is 7:1.

With foodservice now fully aware of the need to reduce packaging and specifically single-use plastic, the SRA has isolated this as the third target area. For, while the report notes that most responsible businesses have ditched plastic straws and there are isolated examples of more proactive action on plastic, as many as a third of SRA members continue to offer takeaway packaging that is not recyclable, reusable or compostable.

Andrew Stephen added: 

“The whole sector needs to act now, because if we don’t fix food, we can’t fix climate change. It’s time to seize the opportunity to embrace meaningful change towards a more restorative model, capturing customers’ desire for more sustainable menus, growing pressure from investors to see the businesses they have a stake in tackling the big issues and the environmental imperative to avoid climate catastrophe.”

The report makes clear that adding a single additional salad or vegetarian option to the menu is insufficient. Businesses like Zizzi and Wagamama have invested significantly in making changes to the balance of their menus and both are enjoying an uplift in sales.


Changing straws isn't enough

The business leaders interviewed for the report acknowledged that straws are the tip of the plastic iceberg and further timely, decisive action is required to remove single-use plastic from UK commercial kitchens and front of house.

Henry Dimbleby, Founder of Leon and a non-exec board member of Defra says in the report: “UK restaurants alone use a tiny amount of global resources, but their ability to make the weather and influence how people feel about sustainability and food is massive. And what we do, others in the world will follow.”

Read the full report here.

Published 5 Mar 2019

Food Waste: Sustain supports a reduction in food surplus, loss and waste.

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