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4 Low-Cost Ways to Make Your Restaurant More Earth Friendly

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Written by Jeff Stone, CEO of Compeat, for Fast Casual

In an industry where costs are high and margins are low, the idea of “going green” can seem like an unrealistic objective. However, there are smaller day-to-day activities that restaurant operators can practice as individuals and as companies that can collectively make a huge impact. Assessing your environmental impact is a great way to celebrate Earth Day.

Some restaurants are going above and beyond by joining the Zero Foodprint movement where they are creating a renewable food system by funding climate friendly farming practices to fight climate change.  If this movement is one that you want to get behind, you can support the growing group of restaurants pledging to go carbon neutral this week.
Here are 4 simple low- or no-cost solutions that you can implement immediately to start your journey of going green:

1. Eliminate food waste
According to Restaurant Hospitality, the restaurant industry alone generates about 11.4 million tons of food waste annually at a cost of about $25 billion per year.  At restaurants, every dollar invested in food waste reduction can realize about $8 in cost savings.

Below are three practices that will reduce food waste while reducing your food costs:

  1. Write out your recipes to account for waste. For example, if you purchase whole, fresh turkeys and roast them onsite, understand that just because you bought a 17-pound turkey does not make 17 pounds of usable food. Account for the yield and base your plate cost on the portion that actually makes it to the plate.
  2. Start a waste journal. Let’s face it — accidents happen. If you keep a food waste journal, waste can be accounted for and tracked. Be sure to include the reason the product was wasted as well — you may start noticing trends you can act on.
  3. End the over-prepping. To a point, over-prepping is unavoidable. However, if your trusty waste journal says that you’re throwing out gallons of fresh salsa every two days, there is a problem in the amount of salsa you’re prepping.

2. Conserve energy and water
There are long-term facilities changes that restaurants can maketo become greener such as low flush toilets, energy star appliances, and energy efficient ventilation. However, there are smaller steps that you can take that will make an immediate impact on your restaurant’s footprint.
Try out these three energy and water conservation ideas:

  1. Switch to energy efficient lighting. To conserve energy and water, use low flow nozzles and appliances as well as energy efficient lighting. Energy efficient lighting like CFLs and LEDs not only use less energy and produce less heat, but also have a longer lifespan than incandescent bulbs meaning less waste in landfills
  2. Install low flow water fixtures or aerators. Check with the local utilities provider to see if they offer a free audit consultation. They may even provide aerators to reduce water consumption. Typically, low flow fixtures see a water reduction of at least 20% compared to conventional fixtures.
  3. Create environmentally friendly policies and practices. Power down idle equipment when not in use, including the back office, and implement practices such as only running dishwashers when full. Put up signs to remind employees to turn lights off when not in use and to conserve water. Use social media for promos; it’s eco-friendly and often more effective than traditional paper-based promotional materials.

3. Pollution Prevention
People commonly contribute air pollution to manufacturing and power plants, heavy traffic, and deforestation. While these are all major contributors, recent studies have shown that organic aerosols, which are food cooking emissions, are a significant source of air pollution in the immediate vicinity of restaurants.
Here are a few practices to help reduce air pollutants:

  1. Ensure routine cleaning and maintenance. This consists of things like cleaning grease traps, keeping waste storage areas clean, and using sustainable products when possible as well as staying ahead of the curve for potential new laws and regulations. Someone local may offer free bio-fuel pick-up or may even pay for it!
  2. Verify proper chemical and cleaning supply storage. Ensure all chemicals and cleaning supplies are stored, handled, and used properly. This not only protects employees and customers but can also eliminate fines associated with incorrect practices.
  3.  Purchase sustainable foods and use green vendors. Purchase sustainable foods when possible. Locally sourced meat and seafood continues to be a growing restaurant trend that may bring in additional sales and also greatly reduces the gas and oil used to ship product across far distances.

4. Reduce single-use plastics
While the use of plastic certainly makes an operator’s life easier, we can no longer deny the negative impact of the amount of waste these items are causing to our landfills and oceans.
Here are three things that you can do to help reduce single-use plastics in your restaurant:

  1. Use recyclable or compostable takeout containers and paper products. In addition to having staff use reusable containers, consider using compostable or recyclable takeout containers and recycled content paper products.
  2. Only offer straws upon request. According to scientists, there are approximately 437 million to 8.3 billion plastic straws on the world’s coastlines. If asked, more than half of customers pass on taking straws. This approach also helps reduce consumption and lowers your business costs. If your customer-base isn’t ready to give up straws just yet, provide alternatives.  Bamboo Straws, Paper Straws, stainless steel, and biodegradable plant-based straws are all environmentally friendly choices that can enhance your restaurant’s ambiance and guest satisfaction.
  3. Get reusable cups for employee use. Purchasing reusable containers for employees not only reduces waste but can also save money. Imagine that there are 25 employees working each day and each uses a takeout beverage cup. If each cup costs $0.08 and each of the 25 employees use one a day, this costs $750 per year!

Going green not only reduces costs and waste, it can help people, planet, and profit. Use these tips to make customers and employees happy, reduce wasted resources, and increase profit.