Green is the new black: Five ways to put sustainability on your menu

By Robert Phelps

It takes a lot to run a restaurant. Running the books, keeping up with trends and near-constant interaction with others are all challenging enough, so launching and maintaining a sustainability programme is rarely a top-of-mind issue for owners, chefs and managers. But there’s good news: there are plenty of quick ways restaurateurs can reduce their carbon footprint, and they don’t have to upend their bottom line. Here are five approaches that will help you put sustainability on the menu without breaking the bank.

Think in-season

Sourcing local, in-season produce saves on transport costs and the associated environmental overhead incurred from trucking a head of lettuce cross-country from California. Buying locally means you’re supporting nearby businesses, which helps stimulate the local economy, and, by extension, your restaurant along with it. Operating this way requires a certain amount of flexibility and creativity on the part of the kitchen staff, but the quality is well worth the effort.

For many restaurants, opting for the larger, quantity-driven suppliers is the most cost-friendly approach to food purchasing. But spending a little more to support local farmers will give you fresher produce, seasonal knowledge and ultimately help you work toward a healthier supply chain.

If you have the space, it’s worth making the transition to being a hyper-local restaurant and growing your own produce on-site. Planting rooftop and backyard gardens is becoming increasingly popular among sustainable and green restaurants both for the fresher produce and reduced environmental footprint.

With discerning diners increasingly looking for fresh, locally sourced food, getting your customers on board with paying a little more for the local bounty could be easier than you think. The boost to the regional economy is an added bonus, not to mention your food will be even more delicious.

Be transparent with your customers

Transparency is one of the most pressing issues in hospitality for 2018. More than ever, customers want to be assured that your produce was harvested ethically. They want to know where it’s from, how it got to you and who farmed it.

Trackable produce is an exciting way to communicate these key facts. While the concept is still in its infancy, there has already been plenty of excitement around the chip technology that allows a customer to follow a piece of produce’s journey from farm to table. Frequentz has set up a “track-and-trace” system for food safety — like FedEx tracking, but for each piece of the food supply chain, from seed to table.

Reduce your packaging

How do you store food in your kitchen? Whether it’s freshly prepared produce, half-used ingredients or deep freeze items, consider how you can cut down on everyday packaging items like throwaway containers, plastic wrap and foil. Replace the unnecessary waste with reusable packaging instead, then extend that ethos to your suppliers and request that they cut down on packaging too. Ask them to send your produce in reusable crates or cardboard boxes and return them after each order for further use.

Plastic bags have been in the spotlight since Montreal implemented its ban on them, and it’s likely other cities will follow suit. With both your staff and your suppliers, create a steadfast rule to ban plastic packaging and bags — you’ll be surprised how quickly it catches on.

Energy saved is energy produced

Sustainability doesn’t have to stop at your menu; the energy needs of a restaurant are immense. Refrigeration, cooking and air conditioning will be your primary energy users, followed by ventilation and lighting. Anything you do to make those processes more efficient will reap substantial rewards in the long term.

LED energy-efficient light bulbs are affordable, and a refit of your premises will quickly pay for itself. Check that your dishwasher is not overheating the water, and work with your chefs to get more cooking done at the same time to control the stove and oven use.

Make sure refrigerator motors are cleaned monthly, as they use a lot more power when clogged with dust. Repair or replace door seals on fridges and ovens to ensure cool or hot air is not leaking. Fix leaky taps and replace automatic flushing toilets with dual flush cisterns. It sounds like a lot of work (and it’s not no work), but you’ll quickly see the benefits in the form of lower bills.

Meals to people, not to waste

Approximately 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted globally every year, and according to a report by the Commission on Environmental Cooperation, an intergovernmental commission involving Canada, the United States and Mexico, 1.4 million tonnes of this waste comes from Canada. While the restaurant industry isn’t the sole generator of food waste, it does produce a great deal. Moreover, disposal and landfill fees can be expensive, so limiting what ends up in the garbage can pay fiscal dividends on top of the environmental payoff. Surplus food headed for the trash can go directly to compost (maybe to your new, hyperlocal rooftop garden), or you could redirect it to your local food bank or companies that are set up to share it with those who are food insecure, like Moisson Montreal, Vancouver’s Quest Food Exchange and Toronto’s Second Harvest

Being eco-friendly has become a high standard that more and more businesses strive to reach. Organizations such as Leaders in Environmentally Accountable Foodservice (LEAF) set out to not only certify, but consult any foodservice business looking to make a positive environmental impact. Get in touch with them to see what you can do at your restaurant or bar.

Embracing the latest in hospitality sustainability trends doesn’t have to be expensive or overwhelming. Start with the small stuff, then work your way up. You could end up saving money, plating fresh new dishes and helping those in need all while reducing your restaurant’s carbon footprint. A little effort goes a long way with customers looking to support businesses with values that align with their own.


Robert Phelps is the President of Silver Chef, Canada’s leading dedicated hospitality funding partner that has worked with over 2,100 Canadian hospitality businesses. Silver Chef is invested in the sustainability and longevity of the hospitality industry. 

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