Six rules to establish your restaurant’s sustainability team

Six rules to establish your restaurant’s sustainability team
By André LaRivière
September 14, 2012

Establishing your restaurant’s sustainability team

When you head down the hallway to the chefs’ office at the Four Seasons Resort Whistler, it’s hard to miss a stretch of bright green laminated posters along one wall. Under a banner titled “Green Bears,” each poster features a grid listing a team name (e.g. Sun Bears), a roster of names of kitchen, serving or admin staff, and check boxes filled with points beside items such as “I shut down the heat lamps between service times” or “I turned off the light in the walk-in cooler,” or “I put glass and plastic containers into recycling bins.” The team with the most “green actions” at the end of the each month wins a prize (think party supplies) and bragging rights. 

There are two noteworthy reasons why this staff engagement program is working: First, it taps into the competitive “play-hard” culture of the staff in Whistler, and secondly, the idea came from the employees themselves as a project of their in-house “green team.” 

In businesses large and small, one of the most effective ways to secure staff participation and support for green initiatives is to assemble a green team. The best way to start is by recruiting people within your operation who’ve already demonstrated some passion for green actions and the environment. Given the relative youth of most foodservice employees, this shouldn’t be a great challenge.

Your green team can be organized like any other team, group or committee in your operation. It can even be a team of two (not one) to start. However, here are some important ground rules that will help ensure truly sustainable results:

Rule #1 – From the top


At least one member of the team must be from the executive or management staff. This will demonstrate not only top-level support, but also ensure that green team recommendations will be channeled to management so that decisions can be made quickly. The exec/management rep is there to: a) listen openly to ideas from the team; b) guide discussions toward actionable plans; and c) set reasonable expectations for the direction of the team and any funding or budget it may receive.

Rule #2 – Mix it up

Draw the other members of the team from different areas of the operation. For example, have one of the kitchen crew, a server or bartender, a rep from accounting or marketing, etc. If the call for green team volunteers doesn’t generate balanced representation across the operation, be prepared to seek out and recruit staff members to fill the gaps.

Nethris/CGI Jan - 2016

Rule #3 – Size matters

Though it may be a non-issue for most operations, the size of the team should be limited to 10 to 12 people to ensure that things get accomplished. To keep things workable but “spread the green spirit,” group and multi-unit operators should invite representatives from key departments and locations to set-up localized or mini-teams to help with research or implementation.

Rule #5 – No ideas are too crazy

Chances are excellent in this industry that the staff team will include many out-of-the-box thinkers who don’t regularly get the chance to strut their stuff. A green team is the ideal venue for creative ideas. Encourage the team to get creative on ways to reduce waste and energy, or make the most of local products and services. Make it clear that going green isn’t just a cost-cutting exercise, but a way to add value to the company while reducing its impact on the planet.

Rule #6 – Stay regular

At the outset, be sure to keep the time between the call for green team volunteers and its first meeting short, as further indication of the commitment to change and success. Once you get the team going, stoke the momentum with regularly scheduled meetings. However, when the “busy-ness” of business demands it, as it often does, don’t hesitate to postpone the green team meeting. It should never become a chore.

And making up some green team jerseys? Always a great idea.

Go team go.

See also:

About the author:

André LaRivière is executive director of the Green Table Network, a Vancouver-based organization helping operators, suppliers and diners across Canada to put “sustainability on the menu.” Find more information at

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