This post was last updated on Oct 12, 2020.
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Becoming a green restaurant is not just good for the earth – it's also a smart business decision. And, at the end of the day, you're making this world a little more beautiful than it was when you joined it.
Customers today want to use products and services that are sourced locally, produced ethically, and are derived from sustainably grown ingredients and materials.
Restaurants stand to benefit from this public push for sustainability: Many modern-day consumers are willing to pay more for ethically sourced, sustainably manufactured goods and services, which means diners are often willing to pay more to eat at restaurants that practice sustainability, ethical sourcing, and other environmentally conscious business practices. Aligning your restaurant's brand with a cause – like environmental protection, children's literacy, animal rights, or disaster relief – can also help you build a positive rapport with your local community and likeminded individuals. It may open your restaurant up to new event hosting, sponsorship, and advertising opportunities.
If cutting carbon emissions and promoting sustainable farming are part of your restaurant's core values, here's how to become a green restaurant.
Step 1: Reduce
Did you know that the average American throws out one pound of food per day?
Now, how many seats do you have in your restaurant? Though you may strive to reduce waste in your kitchen by maximizing the amount of inventory that goes on the plate instead of in the trash, it's likely you're still producing a ton of food waste.
And that's not all: There are a ton of usage numbers – from water usage to electrical usage to chemical usage – that you can reduce in your restaurant.
First on the list: Focus on reducing your energy usage. One of the easiest ways to do this is by installing energy efficient lighting. There’s an upfront cost associated, but that can be offset in other areas of the business like government initiatives that incentivize businesses to install LEDs or other footprint-reducing lighting.
If you’re opening a new restaurant, try to choose a space that has large windows. This allows you to use natural light in lieu of electricity during the day. And, opening the windows on warm days to let in a breeze can help you keep your restaurant's air conditioner usage down.
If you happen to be renovating or making kitchen upgrades, go for Energy Star certified appliances. Perform routine maintenance on all appliances (yes, it's tedious, but you really should do it) to make sure they’re in good shape and running efficiently. Besides appliances, Energy Star also certifies roofing materials and window sealant. Using compliant products will help you regulate your indoor temperature through outdoor weather extremes.
If possible, install energy-efficient insulation, duct sealing, and weather-stripping to cut down on heating and cooling consumption. Plan on keeping your indoor temperature moderate and using a programmable thermostat so heating and cooling can be reduced during off hours.
Reduce water usage by using low-flow faucets and toilets and installing a water filtration system in house. You can also install a high-efficiency water heater in order to use less energy as you heat water for kitchen use.
After basic utilities, inventory represents the next largest waste category for restaurants.
Make sure you are carefully managing your inventory to ensure you’re using all of your products and ingredients before they spoil. This will take some analysis: you'll want to calculate your restaurant's inventory turnover ratio to determine how fast you're moving through your inventory currently, how long different categories of inventory are sitting on the shelf, and identify areas where you could be buying in bulk or re-examining your purchasing behavior.
On top of that, you can reduce waste in your restaurant by carefully highlighting expiration dates, repurposing tonight's leftovers as a discounted special tomorrow, or by investing in a digital inventory management tool to track the usage and shelf life of your inventory.
You can also profit off of your restaurant's waste by selling your leftovers at a discounted rate as the end of meal service using an app called FoodForAll. FoodForAll helps restaurants make the most of their inventory, helps guests enjoy delicious meals from the restaurants they love, and helps the community by donating a portion of each check to a local food bank.
Finding creative ways to reuse scraps and leftovers is another great idea; consider starting a composting program to support an herb or vegetable garden for your restaurant.
Step 2: Reuse
After you've made a dent in reducing your restaurant's waste, it's time to examine your systems and see whether there are areas where you could be investing in reusable materials.
Switch from single-use plastics and paper products to tablecloths and napkins that can be washed and reused over and over. Purchase pre-owned kitchen appliances and furniture instead of buying brand new ones — you can even reupholster or refinish an old dining set to make it look brand new. And, if you’re replacing any appliances or furniture in your restaurant, consider donating your old equipment for another kitchen to use.
You should also consider joining the wave of restaurants pledging to cut down on plastic straw pollution in oceans by joining The Last Plastic Straw — and encourage your customers to take the pledge, too.
Step 3: Recycle
You probably saw this one coming: Step three in your journey to becoming a green restaurant is to beef up your restaurant recycling strategy.
Recycling has never been easier! The majority of waste management companies facilitate recycling disposal, all you need to do is ask.
Commit to recycling all your boxes and bottles, and sign up for a bottle return program if one is available in your area.
Besides sorting and disposing of your recyclable products, you can start by purchasing 100 percent recycled products whenever possible, including kitchen and bar mats that are made out of 100% recycled materials. If you haven't already, switching to using recycled paper products like paper towels and toilet paper is easy to do, just make sure the products you're purchasing are chlorine free and made from kraft paper.
If your restaurant is a fast-casual or quick-service concept, add a recycling component to your waste disposal stations; given the option, many customers will choose to recycle, and they’ll appreciate that they can at your restaurant.
Recycling station at Chipotle in San Diego, CA
For restaurants that offer takeout and delivery, switch to using compostable, recyclable, or biodegradable containers that are made from recycled kraft paper, bamboo, corn or banana leaves — yes, banana leaf boxes exist!
And, only include condiments and cutlery with takeout orders if the customer requests them. Since most takeout customers just eat their order at home, they probably already have utensils and condiments and will just throw the ones you supply in the trash.
Step 4: Clean Green
Now it's time to clean up your cleaning supplies and strategy.
Cleaning supplies tend to be harsh on the environment and your body, often containing non-biodegradable materials; when used on an industrial scale, those products can have a huge negative impact on the planet.
When sourcing your cleaning products, look for cleaners that are environmentally friendly and biodegradable, like all of the products that are green seal certified. A quick pro-tip: The green seal covers way more than just cleaning supplies, like paper products, takeout containers, paint, building supplies, and more.
In addition to looking for the green seal on cleaning products, you can swap out harsh chemicals for natural cleaners like vinegar, borax, and baking soda. Not sure where to start? Check out these chemical-free cleansers.
**Bonus Point Alert**: Source Sustainably
Becoming a green restaurant will take some time, patience, and analysis to make sure your eco-friendly efforts are ROI positive.
After you've gotten yourself into a green groove, earn your restaurant some bonus points by switching to using sustainably sourced ingredients for your kitchen and cocktails as well as supporting brands that incorporate sustainable practices into their operations.
You can do this by buying local, in-season produce from farms in your area or by growing your own in a restaurant garden if space and time allow. Aim to buy organic ingredients whenever possible.
If you serve seafood or are a seafood-only concept, making sure you’re sustainable gets trickier because seafood can’t be certified organic. Overfishing is a huge problem worldwide, so make sure you're using a service like the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch to make sure you’re getting sustainable seafood from the right places.
Going Green in 2019
Environmental protection and setting the next generation up for success are top of mind right now in the wake of a new, bombshell climate report. Every effort, no matter how small, matters when it comes to reducing our collective carbon footprint.
Read more from ChefHero's Ultimate Guide to Running a Restaurant.