LAREé FELTONJanuary 7, 2008
Is your favorite restaurant keeping up with current trends?
Consumers are beginning to think twice about supporting a business that does little to nothing to alleviate the impact that its processes have on the environment. This is especially true if the company produces luxury goods or if the consumer has abundant substitutes to choose from.
To date, most media attention focuses on huge companies in polluting industries — or the inverse, huge environmentally friendly companies. Many of the latter have found “green” advertising to be a marketing tool to use to their advantage. Indeed, consumer awareness of environmental issues has fostered a newly emerged, market-driven demand for products that are produced in a sustainable manner.
Marriott International recently gained media attention with its “green” initiatives, and a new Hilton hotel in the Vancouver, Wash., Esther Short Park generated publicity awards for green-building standards. Burgerville has made strides toward sustainability with efforts to use local ingredients and wind power energy, and Hot Lips Pizza was recognized by HBO and Fortune Magazine in its effort to reduce the effects of global warming.
The majority of restaurants have not picked up on sustainable business practices. They are guilty of:
# Little or no recycling of glass bottles, containers, plastic, paper or cardboard, much of which becomes garbage.
# Excessive waste of food items, from veggies to noodles to dressings that are pre-portioned in plastic containers and bags.
# Packing garbage cans in the kitchen with Styrofoam portioning bowls, lids and plastic bags.
# Limited or no conservation policies or training.
Some, usually smaller restaurants, do make sustain-ability a priority. Carafe, a neighbor-hood French bistro in downtown Portland, is leaps and bounds ahead of the industry.
“We just believe it’s the right thing to do — we have children and we want to hand them the earth in a good state,”owner Pascal Sauton said. “It’s actually really easy to do.”
Carafe recycles practically everything. Food waste is turned into compost through a program in their building, and cooking oil is turned into bio-diesel.
Finding local and sustainable suppliers is of utmost importance to Sauton. He has implemented a policy of attaching food-miles to products using the distance from the source to the restaurant. Miles are then kept at a minimum.
“We want to be a model for others to jump on the bandwagon,” he said.
Sauton has been actively involved in local chapters of Ecotrust and the Chef’s Collaborative, which promote sustainability practices in the restaurant industry. Significant growth in these organizations suggests a more optimistic outlook for the future.
“The city of Portland is making it easier by providing programs and information for businesses. There are still a lot of bigger places that see it as a hassle, so they just never look into it. But there is increasing pressure to be responsible. I do see the future as very positive.”
If management begins working toward sustainability initiatives now, restaurants can save on future costs of dramatic restructuring as well as negative publicity. Management also may consider the benefit of positive publicity that would come with pioneering “green” restaurant initiatives. These are small steps management can take to lessen the environmental footprint, not only for the future viability of the business, but to minimize the impact of restaurants, and all businesses, on the earth.
According to the Oregon Restaurant Association, the restaurant industry employs one in 14 payroll workers in Oregon. It is second only to local government in number of workers employed.
With a growing consciousness of environmental issues in society today, it is only a matter of time before the restaurant industry’s dirty little secret becomes a greater topic of interest.
LaReé Felton of Vancouver, Wash., is a joint-degree student in business and law at Willamette University. She received her bachelor’s degree in sociology from Washington State University in 2003. She wrote this article for Atkinson Management Today, which is available at www.willamette.edu/agsm/amt.