Globally, the restaurant industry has been making a concerted effort to reduce its negative impact on the environment. Chefs, restaurants, and suppliers have been operating their supply chains in new ways, lessening their carbon expenditure, and reducing their kitchen waste.
From cooks going carbon neutral in California to steakhouse groups thinking outside the box to become B-Corp certified, we’re looking at what it takes to go green in today’s world, as we move towards a more sustainable future.
Carbon neutrality and the quest for net zero
According to the UN, the food sector accounts for 30% of the world’s energy consumption and 22% of greenhouse gas emissions. While the food sector is far more wide-reaching than the restaurant industry alone, the more individual dining spots can reduce their carbon footprint, the more of a positive impact they can have.
In recent years, we’ve seen more restaurants pledging to become carbon neutral with a move towards net-zero. What’s the difference? Simply put, carbon neutrality is when any CO2 released into the atmosphere from a company's activities is balanced by an equivalent amount being removed, while net zero means an activity releases no carbon emissions into the atmosphere whatsoever.
For a restaurant, with its wide supply chains, high energy use and fluctuating customer numbers, becoming carbon neutral is no easy feat. It may seem like a Herculean task for chefs and restaurateurs looking to make the changes needed to future-proof their business.
There’s an influential group of torchbearers leading the way, including California-based French chef Dominique Crenn. In 2020, Atelier Crenn—her three-Michelin-star restaurant in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights district—was awarded a coveted Green Star for its commitment to achieving carbon neutrality.
Crenn has long been an advocate for the environmental impact of global food cycles, while working to reduce the distance her produce needs to travel. “I’m not against the globalization of produce, per se, but we need to focus more on local suppliers and farmers if we’re going to reduce our impact,” she said. “As a restaurant owner, I’d much rather deal directly with the farmer than the big faceless companies importing food.”
Her enthusiasm for homegrown, home-sourced ingredients inspired her to purchase a farm in Sonoma in 2017. A 20-minute drive from her home in San Francisco, Bleu Belle Farm supplies many of the vegetables and herbs for her three restaurants. That said, Crenn is still a champion for supporting like-minded producers. “I don’t grow everything there because I also want to buy from the guy next door. I’m not going to grow potatoes when there is a farmer 20 miles down the road growing the best potatoes. That’s how we need to think—we need to support each other.”
Respectful of the intrinsic connection between humans and habitat, Crenn hopes to build an educational center sometime in the future, where people can learn to work in harmony with their environment. “Despite all our innovation, we can’t forget how to look after this planet. We are guests on this earth, and we must commune with nature as nature communes with us.”
To B-Corp, or not to B-Corp?
At the last count, there were more than 6,000 B-Corp business around the world. The logo can be found on everything from cartons of oat milk and electric delivery vans to the doors of restaurants and the webpages of -travel companies. So, what does it mean to be a B-Corp business, and is it easy to acquire?
In short, B-Corp is an ambitious initiative that measures a company’s entire social and environmental performance—from supply chain and input materials to charitable giving and employee benefits—and is one of the most rigorous processes a business can go through.
With only 1 in 3 of applicants receiving accreditation, certification is far from guaranteed. Surprisingly, even businesses in notoriously polluting sectors can achieve status if they meet the high standards of social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability. Take the restaurant chain Hawksmoor, for example. With cows and other farm animals producing around 14% of human-induced climate emissions, a steakhouse group doesn't seem like an obvious contender for gaining B-Crop status, but its certification shows how the initiative challenges businesses to move the dial toward a more climate-conscious world.
With 13 restaurants across the UK, Ireland and the US, Hawksmoor has never compromised their beef quality, but the group ramped up its sustainability efforts with the appointment of sustainability consultant Ellie Besley-Gould, who was pivotal in the B-Corp process. “It’s a great feeling joining a group of businesses who are trying to play a part in changing things for the better,” she said. “And knowing that so many other businesses in the restaurant industry are doing likewise is empowering.”
In December 2021, Hawksmoor became carbon neutral, kicking off its ambitious plans to reach net zero by 2030. Besley-Gould is also overseeing the switch to renewable electricity, turning 100% of Hawksmoor’s food waste into biogas—an energy source produced by the fermentation of organic matter—and undergoing carbon foot-printing with all of its suppliers in the next two years.
Waste not, want not
A study by the FAO showed approximately one third of all food produced is wasted every year. It’s an alarming statistic, and the hospitality industry is the second biggest source in the world.
Thankfully, with an industry-wide movement to drastically reduce food waste, the tide is starting to turn. Initiatives include creating smaller menus, charging customer deposits to limit no-shows, and securing a local supply chain—all of which help chefs to better manage stock levels. However, the most progressive movement is focused on reusing, recycling, and fermenting every piece of food destined for the bin.
While there’s no official estimate, it’s generally recognized that a restaurant needs to recycle and reuse 90% of its waste to qualify as a zero-waste business. It's a growing trend, but very few have taken it as seriously as Silo in London’s Hackney Wick neighborhood.
This creative corner of the capital is a fitting location for a ground-breaking dining spot that wears its eco credentials on its sleeve. It’s the brainchild of Douglas McMaster, who approaches every element with sustainability in mind—the crockery’s made from recycled glass, the tables are all upcycled plastic, and the lampshades are even made from mushrooms.
When it comes to waste reduction, McMaster prescribes a regenerative food system that focuses heavily on fermentation to capture and preserve ingredients in order to recreate a new product down the line. “Closed loop cooking is what we call it, [where] everything becomes something,” he said. “It’s a holistic approach to maximize all the resources that have been lovingly grown by farmers. Before fermentation, we would waste perhaps 30% of what comes through the door. It’s now around 3%.”
To discover more about Douglas McMaster’s innovative techniques and how you can reduce the waste in your kitchen, check out our Together for Change videos here.