|With a melancholy melody in the background, our muppet friend shared
with us through song that being green was not easy. In fairness to
Kermit the Frog, his plea may have been accurate back then. But times
have changed. Being green is getting easier. It is becoming
more popular. And, dare I suggest, it is even becoming profitable.
If you have not already noticed, the green movement has – to use a current
buzzword – “tipped.” Environmentally conscious policies are further
penetrating the hospitality industry with every passing moment. Hotels
and restaurants alike are working to implement green practices. Environmental
sensitivity will have a profound effect on the way that hospitality facilities
are designed, built, and operated over the next decade. Experts have
concluded that humans are consuming one-third more natural resources and
ecological services than the earth can regenerate in a sustainable manner.
In other words, we are running an ecological deficit. It is time
to further explore what we can do as members of the hospitality community
to implement existing practices, and, where possible, take the initiative
to develop new practices on our own.
In my view, there are three key components to a green initiative for
any hospitality and foodservice operation. First, there are the operational
practices and decisions. Second, there are the building related practices
which have been developed by other industries and which can be readily
adopted. And finally, there are the initiatives, both operational
and building related, which are specific to the hospitality industry.
These are programs and practices that we as the hospitality industry must
develop – because no one knows our industry better than we do.
In this installment, I want to focus on the first leg of this three-legged
stool – operational practices. I have chosen to incorporate a selection
of facts that will likely convince you of the importance of this issue,
and certain practices that you can implement immediately. The next
installment will address opportunities for exploring the hospitality environment,
and developing our own industry-specific initiatives.
Operators - Could You Help Me Place this Call?
The beauty of these operational initiatives is that they require little
investment or modifications to existing facility for implementation.
They can be started almost immediately. In conducting my own research,
I came across a simple pamphlet from the Green
Restaurant Association. It costs only $10 USD and is full of
interesting facts – many of which I will share with you here – that may
help you better appreciate the importance of these green initiatives.
So, here are some suggested green practices for you to consider:
Reduce, re-use, and recycle: The three “R’s,”
as they are known, are classics, but their importance is underlined when
you consider that the average restaurant in the US produces 50,000 pounds
of garbage every year. It is estimated that 95% of that trash can
be recycled or composted, but is unnecessarily thrown away instead.
In 1997, a study found that less than 1% of disposable packaging in quick
service restaurants was recycled. Consider the financial impact that
this has on an operation as food and beverage operations are actually paying
for this waste twice – when it is purchased and when it is discarded.
Purchase environmentally friendly paper products: Typical
mills that use chlorine to bleach their paper products and produce the
bright white napkins we have come to know and love use 40,000 to 50,000
gallons of fresh water per ton of paper pulp. This water is contaminated
in the process and discarded into the environment, often introducing harmful
contaminants. Chlorine free mills use only 2,000 gallons of water
by comparison and do not introduce harmful toxins into the environment.
Purchasing non-bleached paper products or those with recycled post-consumer
content can dramatically help the environment.
Phase out Styrofoam and other polystyrene products: Styrofoam,
also known as polystyrene foam, is a non-biodegradable substance that is
derived from petroleum. The average American throws away 100 styrofoam
cups every year. Now consider that the average expected life of every
one of those cups is 500 years, and that most waste management companies
are not capable of recycling styrofoam. This is a product that is
subject to the price sensitivity of oil on the front end, cannot be recycled,
and is often discarded shortly after use. It is easy then to see
why we should explore the elimination of Styrofoam in the hospitality industry
– especially because viable alternatives for nearly every Styrofoam product
Demand green practices from your purveyors: Your support of green
initiatives need not start and stop at your back door. Question your
purveyors about their environmental standards to see what they are doing.
Are they purchasing local foods? In the US, the average calorie travels
1,000 miles between farm and plate, which has a tremendous adverse effect
on the environment. Are the food producers that they are purchasing
from implementing green standards on the farm? In the western US,
livestock grazing near rivers, streams, and other bodies of water, has
introduced large and unnatural amounts of animal waste into the water,
resulting in the degradation of water quality and local wildlife habitats.
Consider “green” menu selections: Even the selections on your
menu can have an impact on the environment. Organic food is not just
for tree-hugging types anymore. The reality is that organic food
is what humans have grown for most their existence. It is only in
relatively recent history that we began using chemicals and unnatural products
to enhance the appearance or yield of a particular crop. This short-term
benefit, however, has a long-term cost on both our environment and our
bodies that is extremely detrimental.
Did you realize that vegetarian dishes are actually better for the environment?
Raising red meat require twenty times the land required to raise grains,
and causes far more water pollution and emission of greenhouse gases.
In another example of green menu practices, offering only sustainable fish
species can help support the environment. Scientists now contend
that overfishing of certain species by humans may be the single largest
factor impacting the health of our oceans. It is perfectly normal
to see a variety of “healthy” selections on a menu in a casual dining restaurant.
I see the day where another symbol, one indicating an environmentally conscious
menu selection, will be as commonplace. There is no need to modify
an entire menu; offering a few green selections may be fine. In fact,
you may already have them on your menu – you just need to identify them
and promote them to your patrons.
Evaluate the chemicals you use: Surprisingly, relatively little
is known about the possible effects on human health from most of the 17,000
common chemicals used in hospitality and foodservice operations.
Further, the impact from using a combination of chemicals is even more
uncertain. From routine cleaning to pest management, consider the
chemicals that you are using in your operation and see if there is an environmentally
Reduce water usage: Kudos to the hoteliers who long ago placed
signs in their guestrooms indicating that only the towels left on the floor
would be replaced. Other towels could be hung up and used again.
What these hotel operators learned was this little secret – helping the
environment can also save you money. It can be a cost effective platform
and simultaneously help reduce operational costs when implemented strategically.
Because the average restaurant utilizes 300,000 gallons of water per year,
there are plenty of places to conserve.
Use alternative chafing fuels: Many of the chafing fuels used
by operators emit similar byproducts to those which are emitted from the
burning of diesel fuel. It is estimated that roughly 30% of the candles
on the market have core wicks that contain lead. Now, consider that
these byproducts are being released indoors, in a controlled environment
not typically engineered to handle these pollutants. Non-toxic fuels
and electric chafing dishes can be considered as an alternative.
This Stuff is WAY Too Expensive
Granted, some of the ecologically friendly products are more expensive
– in the short term, anyways. However, once you consider the “total”
cost of many of the operational decisions discussed above, you will find
that the green approach is often less expensive – in the long run.
Environmentally sensitive options are subject to the same laws of supply
and demand that apply to other products. As demand increases, so
will the number of green alternatives. Manufacturers will begin to
see that there is profitability potential in the segment, and then begin
to shift their resources towards the development and marketing of environmentally
friendly products. In fact, this is already happening. Have
you joined the effort, or are you still sitting on the sidelines?
||Lee Simon is an award winning foodservice designer with
The General Group. Lee is also the author of The Restaurant Dream?, a new
book offering an inside look at restaurant development from concept to
reality. As a practicing designer, Lee uses his operational experience
on a daily basis to assist his clients with the planning of new and renovated
foodservice facilities. His past projects, located domestically and
internationally, include all types of foodservice operations.