Going Green in the Restaurant Industry

The restaurant industry has seen a growing interest in sustainability-conscious menus, with clients increasingly seeking local, organic foods. However, going green as a restaurant can mean much more than just changes to ingredient sourcing, and sustainable practices can be introduced in almost all areas of restaurant operations. These practices can have significant effects beyond meeting the expectations of eco-focused clients, and your restaurant can realize significant reductions in overhead costs through green initiatives as well.

As one example of the benefits of going green, the restaurant Mixed, a casual, quick-eats venue in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, has achieved a Platinum level business rating through the Green Business Bureau (GBB). Working with the GBB to focus on industry-specific and cost-saving changes, Mixed has seen over $10,000 in annual savings from its sustainability efforts.

Restaurants can generate a lot of waste, and Mixed recognized this as an opportunity to tackle waste reduction as a key part of its sustainability strategy. Mixed owner and general manager Cole Shaw remarks that, “All of our cups, lids, straws, plates, and silverware are compostable… [Staff] reuse paper waste and have a scratch paper bin which people can use for drafts, internal memos, etc.” Mixed also introduced durable, reusable bags at checkout to give customers the option to make greener choices with any carry-out order.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 80 percent of energy use in restaurants is unnecessary due to inefficient practices or outdated equipment. Though upgrading equipment can have a high initial cost, Mixed chose to update all of its lighting and refrigeration equipment to energy-efficient technology. Though a smaller operation, Mixed has realized a major return on its investment and is seeing $10,000 to $15,000 a year in savings on overhead costs.

Going green as a restaurant is not without its challenges however, and Mixed found one of the biggest challenges to be finding green replacements for existing restaurant equipment. Some items and technologies simply were not yet available, and other replacements were too expensive to implement right away as Mixed tried to balance investment in green retrofits with other expenses.

Adaptations to reach a Platinum level status with the GBB weren’t always easy, but with guidance from the GBB, and with effective staff training, Mixed has gone a long way to creating a sustainable business. Shaw states, ” I’ve learned a lot from the GBB on how to help my business be more green and to maintain our green operation.  I continue to improve our green operation, and the GBB is a nice guidance piece to help along the way and a useful resource.”

Shaw says that a result of his changes, “I’ve seen cost savings, positive feedback from customers, customer loyalty due to us being green, and a better and cleaner atmosphere in the restaurant.”

From waste reduction to sustainable food choices, restaurants can make a big difference for their clients, staff, and communities by choosing to go green. As Mixed shows, working to become a sustainable restaurant can offer a great experience that appeals to your customers, makes your restaurant’s operations more efficient, and can really improve your bottom line.

About Marcos Cordero

Marcos J. Cordero is the co-founder and CEO of the Green Business Bureau, a leading green business certification organization that helps small and mid-sized businesses implement sustainability practices.
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