Sustainable Food and Ecovate

London’s food and drink industry is one of the greediest carbon consumers. it is responsible for around 11 per cent of all the Co2 emissions produced by the entire commercial sector.

 

In the United Kingdom, about one third of the food and drink we consume is purchased from restaurants, pubs, takeaways and other catering services. London alone is home to over 12,000 restaurants which is more than half of the United Kingdom’s total. With some of the best restaurants in the world as well as a culturally diverse selection, the industry is an integral part of the economy. London’s restaurant sector alone generates sales of up to £4.7 billion.

 

Each year:

• Londoners eat 2.4 million tonnes of food

• Produce around 760,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per annum

• Londoners create 883 thousand tonnes of organic waste – a third of the food we buy we throw away! • More than half of the vegetables and nearly all of the fruit eaten is imported.

 

Making the food industry more sustainable brings many advantages. It contributes to thriving economies and local livelihoods and protects diversity of plants and animals. It can reduce damage to natural resources and to the problem of climate change. And it can produce social benefits by making available good quality food that is healthy and safe.

 

But serving up sustainable food is not limited to the plate. Business must take steps to be sustainable in all aspects. Changing UK population and social trends are fuelling demand for convenient, healthy and ethnically diverse foods.

 

This highly competitive sector holds a large number of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). These businesses must continuously innovate to stay in the market.

 

Aside from the positive environmental effects of reducing waste and consumption, there are several business advantages that can come about by incorporating environmentally sustainable practices into a business. In these trying financial times many businesses are seeking to improve their competitive advantage. One way of achieving this is for restaurants and the catering industry to build on the consumers’ growing interest in sustainable food and, in the process, enjoy more customer loyalty.

 

And businesses are starting to see the potential cost savings that can come about through saving energy, water and waste. Additionally, by seeking local suppliers restaurants and caterers can also strengthen local economies as well as ‘green up’ operations. Of course restaurateurs are busy and those who are interested in undertaking more sustainable practices often do not have time or the support to give it any serious consideration.

 

London Sustainability Exchange (LSx) is a charity with over eight years experience in helping Londoners to follow a more sustainable path by connecting and motivating people. It had great success with its Greener Food project which supported over 300 food and drink businesses in becoming greener. Collectively, the businesses saved over 350 tonnes of CO2, material usage was reduced by 100 tonnes per year and over 300 people were trained in green skills. Caroline Bennett, Managing Director of Moshi Moshi, a Japanese restaurant based in Liverpool Street station and one of the Greener Food businesses, recognises that “being green is more than a growing trend, it is part of what business is expected to do”.

 

As her restaurant serves a wide range of fish her customers were increasingly concerned about the sustainability of fish stocks, an issue of ever-increasing prominence in the public eye. Working with Greener Food she was able to implement a range of measures to make her business more sustainable. An energy auditor visited and noted that the restaurant’s ventilation equipment was not being used at efficiently as possible and recommended improvements that would reduce energy usage, as well as extending the life of the equipment. Perhaps even more importantly she was able to change their purchasing practices to ensure they purchased more fish from sustainable stocks, and eventually to gain Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification ensuring customers can enjoy sushi safe in the knowledge that the fish they are eating has come from a sustainable source.

 

This approach has been successful from a business point of view, with the ‘Clear Conscience’ sushi set becoming one of the restaurant’s best sellers and publicity including an article in the Weekend Telegraph magazine.

 

Cyrus Todiwala, Executive Chef and Patron of Café Spice Namaste and Greener Food leader says that he has “seen in practice how going green can increase a restaurant’s profits and popularity”. You can’t get better endorsement than that. The Greener Food project also pointed the way to more innovative, effective and efficient ways to support businesses such as the use of ‘hubs’.

 

Samantha Heath, LSx CEO says; “We found that businesses really prefer business support from other businesses; that is why we think our hub work is most effective.”

 

A ‘hub’ is a cluster of local businesses that can use its collective purchasing power to negotiate discounts, price breaks, and favourable contracts with suppliers of goods and services. The existence of a procurement hub can result in a more secure and stable supply chain, helping businesses build stronger relationships with suppliers.

 

LSx’s Greener Food project has helped to create a number of hubs. In Richmond, a group of local businesses, came together and formed a procurement hub to arrange food waste recycling collections in the area, Having a number of businesses interested enabled economies of scale to be found that would not be possible with a single business. While it would not have been viable for a food waste recycling company to collect from a single interested business, by grouping together the businesses made it possible, and were able to get a better price as well.

 

The hub set up in the Herne Hill area of South London focused on recycling of cardboard and glass. Working together, the hub members were again able to get better quotes for recycling collection.

 

Meanwhile, a different approach to the hub concept was employed in the Victoria Park area of Hackney in East London where an equipment library was set up to enable members to share materials and energy saving devices such as smart meters, which enable users to see exactly how much electricity they are using at any time.

 

Finally, a hub based around interests rather than geography was set up to share the latest information on sustainable packaging amongst members. There is still a lot of work to do but progress is being made. LSx’s new project Ecovate will buld on the work of Greener Food by supporting businesses to incorporate environmental innovation improvements, resulting in both positive environmental and financial impacts.

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