4 Smart Steps to Begin Driving Sustainability Success 

This article first appeared in Restaurant Business Daily, a Winsight publication.Patrons in a restaurant setting.

Given patrons’ increasing preference for restaurants that demonstrate sustainable practices, many owners and operators are eager to improve their sustainability footprint. However, knowing how to approach sustainability can seem overwhelming, particularly since it touches on every aspect of one’s business and takes place in an increasingly fluid and fractured regulatory environment. Care should be taken to ensure the approach resonates with patrons (and employees) while actually helping to drive real improvement for the environment. 
So how can restaurant operators be sure their sustainability efforts won’t be for naught? With a well-developed vision, authenticity, transforming the vision into a shared vision and amplification, a sustainability push will be more effective. Follow these four steps to begin driving success.

(1)    Create a Vision
First, establish and develop a vision that clearly articulates how you intend to create environmental “value.” There are a myriad of “sustainable” options to choose from, but taking time and finding the ones that are truly beneficial is critical. Unfortunately, there are many things that seem good but in reality do not actually help improve your environmental footprint. Operators should map out the sustainability efforts they want to pursue: Switching to reusables or products from certified sources? Working to reduce waste by using new tools and technology? Increasing recycled content requirements? Where infrastructure exists, sourcing food and beverage packaging made of recyclable or compostable materials? Whatever the initiatives are, it’s crucial to plan ahead and base them on the values of your business and your capacity to implement them.

(2)    Ensure Authenticity
Authenticity is crucial to realizing an organization’s sustainability vision. In an era where environmental “green washing” is rampant, consumers (and employees) are skeptical and will examine a business to see whether their sustainability focus is genuine. Operators can help manage perceptions in this area by ensuring that their initiatives actually have a favorable impact on the environment and by taking steps to ensure the initiative is supported and sufficiently resourced. Operators can further provide support by having managers embrace sustainability by integrating initiatives and metrics into day-to-day operations where sustainability is not just a special initiative but is core to “who we are.”

(3)    Establish a Shared Vision
Getting everyone within the restaurant on the same page is paramount to a sustainability program’s success. A shared vision is where every team member understands the vision, thinks it’s a good vision, and understands the role they play in bringing the vision to life. A shared vision can help transform the culture of the restaurant or chain. While a restaurant may not currently be known for its approach to sustainably or the diligent work it does to reduce waste, when managers and employees buy into the program, customers will take notice. Getting staff and guests on board can also help ensure the program’s longevity. Particularly with such high turnover in the restaurant industry, it’s important to have all staff buying into the restaurant’s culture—and that culture includes sustainability.

(4)    Amplify the Message
Going hand in hand with changing up the culture, the last step in ensuring success is making sure customers notice your emphasis on sustainability. Work with your suppliers and marketing team to amplify the initiatives. Brands can highlight and announce changes in numerous ways: on product packaging, in prominent locations across the restaurant, on the website and on social media. You may even ask for input or participation from your guests. Updating the brand’s image to one that’s more sustainable will indeed attract those diners for whom sustainability is a selling point. 

Technomic’s 2018 Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report indicates that 56% of consumers say they are more likely to purchase food and beverage described as sustainable. So, it stands to reason that patrons appreciate restaurants extending their sustainability efforts beyond the food and drink being served—which can translate to a big win for operators. 

       4 Smart Steps to Begin Driving Sustainability Success