How caterers can reduce their carbon footprint

14 October 2021
How caterers can reduce their carbon footprint

Tunley Engineering highlights some easy changes operators can make, from increasing their plant-based menus to eco-friendly packaging.

Awareness of climate change has been increasing over the years. As more examples of the destructive effects of a worsening climate crisis are seen, so interest in making changes that will reduce the impact of our business activities on the carbon emissions that cause it has grown too.

The catering element of food production is responsible for 18% of global carbon emissions, so as caterers we can have a very real impact on climate change.

There are many things caterers can do to cut carbon emissions.

1 Reduce your business energy usage

Gas, electricity and oil usage all contribute to our carbon footprint. Reducing demand is a great first step and this can be achieved from reducing the amount of time ovens are on for while not in use – such as before, during and after cooking times. If your business is in the habit of switching on ovens at the start of a shift so they are ever-ready, take the time to calculate how long is actually needed to bring the oven to temperature and reduce any unnecessary on time. It is also worth noting that electricity is greener than gas, as so much of the electricity supply is now generated from renewables.

2 Offer more plant-based food options

The demand for plant-based food options has never been higher. The happy news is that plant-based foods have a very much smaller carbon footprint than meat. This is because the carbon footprint is caused by the amount of land, water and energy needed to make the food. These are much bigger carbon emitters than transport of the food. For this reason, food miles are a much smaller part of the carbon footprint than the type of food itself.

3 Reduce food waste

Food production requires a large amount of water, land and electricity, all of which have carbon footprints. Yet a third of food produced goes to waste. Options to reduce food waste include donating surplus food to people in need or signing up to a scheme that sells food at the end of the day for a reduced price via an app. Other options would be to discontinue offers, such as endless refills which can encourage waste. You could also offer smaller portion sizes to reduce waste and the option of taking an uneaten portion home – in recyclable packaging.

4 Use environmentally responsible packaging

This can apply to products you buy in as well as to the packaging you use when selling products. Buy in fruit and veg without plastic wrapping and offer paper and cardboard – or even edible packaging for the food you sell.

5 Recycle and provide recycling facilities

From aluminium cans to plastic bottles and paper or cardboard items. Provide a recycle or reuse pathway for every packaging item that you provide and you are on the way to a carbon-neutral business.

6 Greener grounds and offsetting

While it is important to cut your carbon emissions, there is still a place for carbon storage or offsetting. If you have a garden area with a lawn, why not replace some or all of it with wild flowers? How about collecting water for the garden from rainfall to reduce your carbon emissions from water supply. Finally, offsetting schemes, such as tree planting, can remove carbon from the atmosphere and so offset the emissions from your business that remain after you have put into place your carbon reduction initiatives.

Together caterers can make a real difference to carbon emissions and reduce the impact of climate change, so protecting our planet while serving food that is good for us and our environment.

Dr Torill Bigg is chief carbon reduction engineer at Tunley Engineering

Photo: Goami/

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