Go Green to Save Money and Increase Customer Loyalty
According to the Energy Information Administration, restaurants use more energy than any other type of commercial building1. This, along with the waste that running a business always seems to produce, means the restaurant industry has a surprisingly large impact on the environment. There are many ways you can work to make your restaurant more eco-friendly, which can be good for the Earth and even improve employee morale. Since the general public has become more interested in eco-friendly practices, your customers will also appreciate your efforts and your changes can even be used in marketing. Below are a few ideas to help your foodservice operation implement some green practices.
Recycling is a great first step to take when considering environmentally-friendly changes. Purchase recycling containers and place them in easy-to-access areas of your kitchen, storage areas, public spaces, and offices. Take the time to research your local recycling plants so you know what they accept as recyclable materials and can instruct your employees properly. Lastly, arrange for pickup with your local government or recycling company.
Another item many restaurants use that can be recycled is cooking oil. This grease can be collected and used to create biodiesel2, an eco-friendly fuel that can be used in diesel engines. Check for local collection facilities or companies that will provide you with a disposal container that they empty on a schedule determined by how much oil you dispose of. Many companies will even remove the grease from your grease interceptor to recycle into biofuel.
In addition to recycling your own waste, you can also look into purchasing post-consumer recycled materials. Try to source your paper products - such as napkins, paper towels, and to-go boxes - from companies that offer products made of recycled materials. Try to limit or eliminate completely your usage of Styrofoam containers, using instead post-consumer cardboard or plastic recycled materials.
If your location has the space for it, an on-site garden is a great way to save on delivery costs, and adds invaluable appeal to customers who appreciate having the freshest produce. There are many options available that may work for your restaurant, such as an outdoor raised-bed garden, rooftop container garden, or hydroponic garden in a basement or back room. Start small by growing a few herbs or vegetables, and you may be surprised by how quickly you are able to expand into something more.
Having a garden also gives you the opportunity to make use of your food waste with composting. Items like the ends of onions, potato peels, and produce that went bad before it was used are great for breaking down into nutrient-rich compost for your garden. If you are unable to have a garden in your location or don't have room to compost, consider contacting local gardens or farms to offer your waste for their compost pile.
If your location or another constraint does not allow you to have an on-site garden, or you need more produce than your garden can provide, locally sourcing your produce is another eco-friendly option. Local produce requires less fuel for delivery and is a great feature to mention on your menu for discerning customers.
Many beef and dairy products come from cows that have been injected with antibiotics or hormones to encourage growth or milk production3. While the FDA allows these practices, many people are concerned about the potential health effects and prefer their meat and dairy to come from farms that do not use these methods.4 Sourcing organic meat is more environmentally friendly and can draw in customers that take an interest in where their food comes from and how it is grown. Research where your meat is coming from and learn about organic farms if you want to serve organic beef and dairy.
Another area where eco-friendly sourcing is important is seafood. Overfishing is a major problem, leading to depleted populations and endangered species in the oceans. Monterey Bay Aquarium has a program called Seafood Watch5 that helps chefs find seafood sources that are farmed or fished in sustainable ways. The Safina Center, formerly known as the Blue Ocean Institute, also offers a free online course on sustainable seafood and how to source it.6
In addition to conserving our most important finite resource, water conservation can save you thousands of dollars in utility costs per year. Consider installing low flow faucets, faucet aerators, and low-flow toilets or waterless urinals to save water in your establishment.
ENERGY STAR appliances offer another way to save water. ENERGY STAR steamers, dishwashers, and ice machines can use as much as 90 percent less water than their less economical counterparts. If you use linens in your restaurant, invest in an ENERGY STAR washing machine, or use an eco-friendly linen service.
Another way you can dramatically decrease your restaurant's water usage is by asking if customers want water rather than bringing it to the table by default. Often, customers end up ordering soda or tea and the water goes to waste. By bringing the water only when it is requested, you can save quite a bit of water at the table and through decreased dishwashing needs.
Restaurants use almost three times as much energy as the average commercial building1, with most of that energy being used by cooking equipment, ice makers, and refrigeration. Investing in ENERGY STAR equipment can help mitigate that energy usage, saving you money in utilities and helping the environment. ENERGY STAR also rates building supplies, so if you are building or remodeling, you can improve your business's energy consumption rates with superior building materials and insulation. HVAC equipment is another big energy consumer, so purchasing efficient, properly-sized HVAC units can save you a lot of money. Ensure that appliances receive all regular maintenance, so that they are kept in peak operating condition, as poorly functioning appliances may use energy less efficiently.
Making sure that appliances and systems that use energy are not running needlessly can go a long way toward improving your restaurant's energy conservation. Consider using programmable thermostats to ensure temperature stability without a constantly-running HVAC system. Motion-sensitive, energy-efficient lighting in rooms that are not constantly occupied, such as restrooms, can also save energy.
Restaurateurs willing to consider a more long-term investment may consider offsetting their energy consumption with solar power. While the upfront cost is prohibitive for some business owners, those who can invest in solar panels can see energy savings of thousands of dollars a month7, so the panels pay for themselves after a few years.
In order for any restaurant to be environmentally friendly, the staff must be properly trained so that the new procedures are implemented correctly. Whether it’s teaching them which waste items are recyclable or instructing them on the use of a new energy-efficient appliance, employees should be kept informed of all changes.
In addition to training employees in new practices, ensuring that your staff is following protocols that are already in place is also important. Making sure that employees are following first-in-first-out protocols reduces food waste. Chefs should also be closely following recipes in order to keep scraps and food waste to a minimum.
If possible, try to ensure that inventory counts are always done by the same employees. This helps maintain consistency in counting methods and ensures that your waste records are as accurate as possible. That documentation can help you pinpoint problem areas so you can implement new processes to limit waste.
In addition to the money saved long-term with energy- and water-efficient appliances and practices, there are many other incentives in place for restaurants to go green. Environmentally-friendly practices can provide a great marketing tool to draw in customers who prefer to give their business to eco-friendly companies. The Green Restaurant Association certifies restaurants that meet their standards, and encourages customers to 'dine green' by offering a searchable database of certified restaurants.8
Federal and state governments offer grants and loans to fund businesses that are working to become more environmentally friendly.9 These include programs to encourage energy efficiency, sustainability, and innovation. Some utility companies also offer rebates to businesses for purchasing ENERGY STAR equipment, so contact your local utilities to see if your business may qualify.
2. Company Helps Restaurants Recycle Cooking Grease into Eco-friendly Biodiesel Fuel NJ.com. Accessed September 2015.