With the excesses of the Copenhagen climate prevarications estimated to have produced 41,000 tons of carbon dioxide, the bookmaker Paddy Power offering odds on the decline in Polar bear numbers and the hoo-ha over manipulated data, exposure and comment on environmental issues increases daily.
It is surely accepted by now that the ostrich mentality of sticking ones head in the sand is no longer an option, and for the industry to do so en masse would have frighteningly lasting repercussions. However, with the fingers of commercial reality tightening their grip around the markets throat, there is still a dilemma within business over the fiscal cost in acting sustainably against the moral cost in not doing so.
Questions are still being asked in businesses across the UK such as What, precisely, are our environmental responsibilities? What measures should we be taking to lighten our environmental footprint? Do we really have to do more than is legally required? There are also major concerns about the potential costs involved imaginary or otherwise when balanced against shareholder value.
As is increasingly evident, it is in everyones interest for all businesses to integrate environmental sustainability into the corporate culture. Foodservice is no different. In fact the industry is uniquely placed in that, should it wish, it is in a position to communicate sustainable values to large numbers of people its customers.
Operators as a unit have more influence than they think in this area. Sure, people go to restaurants to be fed rather than lectured to, but overt evidence of environmentally responsible practice across the board will undoubtedly have an impact on domestic attitudes and strengthen the ideal of caring for the environment in customers minds. By modelling responsible environmental behaviour, operators can help to make that behaviour more likely, not to mention enhancing their brand perception in the process.
In addition, given the energy usage attributed to the combined activities of foodservice, a mass movement by operators could have a decisive impact on the nations overall footprint.
Irrespective of this wishful thinking, not to take the sustainable environment into account in our business plans and processes is economically disastrous. There is also good evidence to show that environmental initiatives are producing business efficiencies that are enabling firms to gain a competitive edge and, subsequently, creating greater value for shareholders.
As part of its Saving money its your business campaign, Defra maintains that businesses are wasting £6.4 billion a year by missing simple money-saving opportunities. It highlights the need for the catering and hospitality industry to cut down on waste, energy and water use in a campaign aiming to show how simple environmental actions can translate into money savings.
More recently, the Envirowise Business Thrift Shift Report on how the recession has impacted on UK business resource efficiency, indicated that almost three- quarters (73 per cent) of businesses surveyed have developed a more detailed knowledge of their spending and resource use as a result of the recession. This includes everything from investment in raw materials, transport and energy, to staffing, equipment and professional services.
For the hotel and catering industry, reduction of water and energy use was the biggest area of cut back (75 per cent), with a large number also minimising spend on raw materials and consumables. Indications are that this thrift shift is set to continue when the recovery comes, with 79 per cent of respondents citing a greater emphasis on energy efficiency in particular as a possible legacy of the recession.
There will, of course, be firms where directors may take the converse view, feeling that, by letting their competitors spend time concerning themselves with environmental initiatives, they will in some way gain a competitive advantage. Apart from the ethical argument against letting others do all the work, sooner or later these businesses will have to join the bandwagon and will find that their short-termist thinking will ultimately damage them.
Fortunately, the majority of business owners and managers have the foresight and imagination to see what must be done by the whole and are taking environmental responsibility seriously and reaping the benefits