The Green Report: Restaurant Operators are Taking a Closer Look at Green Operations

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There has been a visible shift in the foodservice industry, as operators strive to embrace more sustainable practices. Though smaller players can be credited with leading the charge on implementing comprehensive sustainability measures — including field-to-fork dining, zero-waste kitchens and entirely plant-based menus — many of the industry’s biggest names are implementing changes to make themselves more appealing to consumers. For example, McDonald’s Canada successfully completed its Verified Sustainable Beef Pilot in June 2016. The 30-month project, in partnership with the Canadian beef industry, demonstrated that sustainable practices and outcomes can be verified through the entire Canadian beef supply chain and that cattle from verified sustainable-beef operations can also be tracked through these operations.

“We are so proud of the innovative and progressive work accomplished through the Canadian Pilot,” Francesca DeBiase, chief Supply Chain and Sustainability officer at McDonald’s Corporation stated at the pilot’s conclusion. “We’re committed to leading a sustainable-beef movement and will work alongside the GRSB (Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef) to help advance the continuous improvement in sustainability of the global beef value chain.” Taco Bell is also making visible strides towards greener operations. In January, the QSR chain released a list of “New Year’s commitments”, which included reducing energy consumption and featuring more reclaimed materials and sustainable landscape features in all of its new restaurant concepts. The company also vowed to update its packaging to include more environmentally conscious materials by

moving items such as The Fiesta Taco Salad from plastic packaging to a paper box. As 2017 progresses, it is likely that more companies will announce similar changes to the way they operate. As Toronto-based NPD Group points out in its Predictions for 2017 and Beyond, today’s consumer is well educated and, younger consumers especially, are willing to research brands and pinpoint those that align with their personal values. “People feel they’re doing right when they support companies that are connected to locally sourced ingredients, donations to charities, sustainable environmental practices and animal welfare practices,” the report reads.

PUT INTO PRACTICE
While large, established operations work to keep themselves in line with customers’ evolving expectations, young chains and independent restaurateurs are taking advantage of the flexibility afforded by their smaller scale to be increasingly nimble and comprehensive in their sustainability strategies.

Chef Christie Peters has made waste reduction a central focus at the two Saskatoon restaurants she owns with her husband and partner Kyle Michael. The pair is part of a wave of young chefs inspired to rethink the way restaurants operate. When opening their first restaurant, The Hollows, they decided to make sustainability a core philosophy — an initiative they have since carried over to their second project, Primal.

This philosophy made Peters a fitting choice to head up the Saskatchewan Waste Reduction Council’s Rubbish Dinner, which was held last October. Inspired by events organized by chefs such as Dan Barber and David Gunawan, Peters developed a creative menu “using things that would normally end up in the compost or people would [usually] discard.” Dishes included a garden minestrone soup made with the stems and ends of vegetables and a parmesan-rind broth, as well as a prosciutto skin cotechino sausage.

In truth, this style of cooking was not much of a divergence from Peters’ day-to-day. Items such as the beet-stem conserve, which was served with off-cut agnolotti at the Rubbish pop-up, are commonly featured on The Hollows’ menu.

As Peters explains, her team has taken several unique steps to ensure their restaurants operate as sustainably as possible, including managing their own compost (since Saskatoon does not provide municipal year-round compost services) and sourcing products as locally as possible. The restaurants source much of their produce from local gardens — including Peters’ own garden — much of which is preserved to last through the colder months. Whole animals are brought in and split between the two restaurants. “We only use whole animals,” Peters explains. “So we’re not just ordering the prime cuts, we’re really making use of everything, including the bones,” which are used to make stock or burnt and added to the compost.

Peters even makes use of used fryer oil and leftover animal fat to make soap, which is then used in the restaurants or sold in the general store above The Hollows. This style of restaurant operation does pose some challenges, with extra steps and costs involved in everything from ordering, to menu planning and the handling of waste. “We have one staff member who is pretty much dedicated to monitoring and working with the compost; that’s a position most restaurants wouldn’t have,” Peters adds. “We [also] have our horticulturist on staff. She keeps us really connected with what’s going on in the seasons, in the earth and what the gardens need.”

Peters says it’s worth the effort. “It has really built us a beautiful staff,” she says. “I think us caring about sustainability has attracted a lot of awesome people who are really in it for the long haul.” And, when it comes down to it, “we do it because it feels right for us.”
As a company, Craft Beer Market shares Peters’ attitude of doing what feels right. “That feel-good [philosophy] is actually important because it carries into how we operate our business,” explains Alym Hirji, executive chef, Craft Operations. “There is a right way to do business…and having values is important, especially when we want our team members to buy into what Craft is all about.”

The Calgary-based company has made sustainable operations part of its identity since its launch in 2011. In the years since, the brand has continued to practice these values as it expands throughout Canada and internationally. “Making decisions in a conscious, environmentally sustainable manner is part of our DNA,” says Hirji. This includes making Leaders in Environmentally Accountable Foodservice (LEAF) and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certifications part of the brand’s opening process. In fact, Craft is the largest LEAF-certified restaurant in Canada. Its locations also use locally sourced ingredients, implement waste-management programs and power its beer operations using Bullfrog Power — a green-energy service that puts 100-per-cent green electricity into the grid to match the energy consumption of its clients.

“When you make decisions based on sustainability and environmental initiatives, it adds cost to your decision-making process,” admits Hirji. “[But] we have actually adjusted what we feel our profit model should look like based on our experience with different similar-sized restaurants. We [are willing to] take a higher percentage in food cost because we believe in sustainability.”

GREEN DAYS AHEAD
The demand for increased environmental responsibility reaches beyond foodservice operations, inspiring suppliers and the institutions training the next generation of industry professionals to adjust their operation models.

At Durham College’s Centre for Food (CFF) in Whitby, Ont., sustainable and environmentally conscious practices are not only applied to the school’s operations, but form a cornerstone of the learning experience. The centre, which encompasses Durham Collage’s culinary, hospitality, tourism, agricultural and horticultural programs, is focused on sustainable practices and the field-to-fork concept. To this end, the facility features an orchard, pollinator garden, greenhouse, agricultural planting zone, demonstrator gardens, agricultural planting fields and an arboretum — all of which support applied learning and research while providing produce for use in the CFF’s kitchens and laboratories. As Tony Doyle, associate dean at CFF explains, these facilities afford students many unique ways to engage with the food cycle and the field-to-fork concept. “Our students are exposed to many different opportunities and [develop] such a unique skill set,” he says. Students are not only working in the labs, “but they’re helping run a restaurant, helping with retail operations [and] helping in the fields.”

The centre, which holds several green certifications, including a three-star rating from the Green Restaurant Association, also puts great emphasis on reducing waste. “Our goal is zero waste,” explains Doyle. “So if our post-secondary has an excess of a certain ingredient [they] chat with our chef in our restaurant to make sure we are not wasting that and [find a way to] use it.”

In this way, CFF’s sustainable practices are not only about doing the right thing for the community and the environment, but preparing its students for the realities of the current market. Given changing demographics continue to drive demand for locally sourced food, and sustainable dining as a whole, Doyle expects the CFF’s students will have a leg up on the competition when they enter the job market.

“We honestly believe that in a few years our students are going to be at the forefront because they are trained this way,” says Doyle. “[Already] more and more calls are coming in and asking to tap into our model, use our students, use our facility and use our chefs because of what we’re doing.”

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