Foodservice Footprint line2 Ten takeaways for better sustainability practice Innovation Marketplace

Ten takeaways for better sustainability practice

We recently hosted a roundtable for a group of senior executives from across the restaurant, pub, bar and contract catering world, bringing together leaders to talk frankly about their achievements in sustainability.

We wanted to understand where they see the opportunities for more progress in the move to a zero carbon industry, and hear their approaches to communicating initiatives and progress, both internally and externally. 

There is a nervousness in many companies about how much, and when, to communicate their green credentials to the public. Even when consumers say they want more information, operators are understandably extremely fearful of greenwashing. There is a sense in some quarters that sustainability initiatives need to be completed before talking about them, even if that means sacrificing potential consumer goodwill by sharing news about their journey. 

Greenhushing – failing to share progress on sustainability initiatives – presents a new risk for the sector. The candour with which participants shared their sustainability pain points was notable, even by the standards of the hospitality industry. This transparency is vital for progress, so we hope that hospitality leaders will not give in to the temptation of silence, but instead continue to share their commitments and achievements with their peers, their teams and their consumers, for the betterment of the sector. 

Our new report, Sustainability Matters: What hospitality leaders want and how their brands can win, includes more takeaways from an eye-opening session – below are ten key takeaways for better sustainability practice. 

  1. Look for marginal gains

Getting to zero-carbon status can’t happen overnight, so seek to achieve it in small increments. “You can’t turn a juggernaut around quickly. It’s about making little nudges… over time they’ll build and you’ll have made a big change,” said Su Cacciopo of the Peta David Consultancy.

  1. Keep it simple

Sustainability messages don’t always land as well as other communications because they’re not easily understood – so look for short, sharp messages. “When you get into scientific information you can turn people off. Make it interesting… and finding things that people can engage with,” said one marketing director.

  1. Prioritise

With dozens of competing issues, pick the aspects of sustainability that matter most. As one leader said: “We’ve done lots of little bits and pieces, but it can feel fragmented. “[We ask ourselves] What really matters? What’s going to make a meaningful, tangible difference?”

  1. Work from the top down…

Roundtable guests agreed that change has to come from director level. To get boards’ attention, it can help to demonstrate the commercial as well as environmental benefits of becoming more sustainable in areas like energy use and food waste. “Being able to quantify sustainability is the way forward… that helps to get over the board challenge,” said one leader.

  1. … And the bottom up

Change also needs to come from the restaurant floor, another CEO pointed out. “If it’s just coming from our executive team down then it won’t land. Getting a push and pull going is always the best way to do it.”

  1. Be honest with consumers

Guests are entitled to ask brands tough questions about sustainability. But they also need to be part of the solutions. “We need to tell consumers that we can make dishes with lower carbon impacts, but also that you need to buy them. There’s more to do, but with customer support we can accelerate the changes,” said Mark Chapman, CEO of Zero Carbon Forum.

  1. Stay authentic

Consumers want brands to show genuine commitment to their values. “It’s about having a purpose – and not just on sustainability,” said Vikki O’Neill, global CMO of Vapiano. “Show willing… people appreciate that more than a bundle of information they don’t understand.”

  1. Think social as well as environmental

Thinking laterally on communications can make messaging easier, one sustainability expert said. Try tweaking the language so you demonstrate all the wider benefits. “We’re communicating it as a social solution rather than just a food waste solution.”

  1. Motivate staff

Look for elements of carbon footprints that teams can latch on to, like recycling and cutting food waste. “We aim for the low-hanging fruit – the improvements that staff can make, feel proud of and talk about,” one ops director said. Creating league tables of the sites that are making the biggest cuts in emissions can help, he added. “You start to get that competitive element going.”

  1. Act together

Round tables and open discussions are vital if hospitality is to make proper progress on sustainability. “We’ve got to be careful about rushing ahead with communications before we’ve spent the time collectively understanding the problem…and then doing something about it,” said one MD. By looking around for inspiration and sharing best practice, brands can help hospitality as a whole position itself as a leader on this vital issue. 

Stephen Nolan is the CEO of Nutritics. Sustainability Matters: What hospitality leaders want and how their brands can win, is available for download now at