When it comes to sourcing, operators, perhaps unsurprisingly, think first and foremost about food. Finding reliable, sustainable suppliers can be painstaking, if rewarding work. Customer demand for locally sourced, seasonal, quality produce encourages operators to put time and effort into the process.
Sourcing sustainable non-food resources, while not having the same instant customer appeal, can be more straightforward and have the added bonus of delivering genuine cost savings.
The range of items restaurants are sourcing sustainably is incredibly broad. Loose chips from a wood factory compacted into logs to burn on a fire at one end of the spectrum, right through to a total no-plastics policy, restaurants are reviewing their purchasing and practices across the board.
Organic cotton uniforms and furniture made from recycled timber equally represent the creative ways in which operators are looking again at their non-food sourcing. As part of its overall commitment to operating more sustainably, the central-London based four-strong pub group Cubitt House carried out a review of all non-food sourcing.
Director of operations Ryan Moses was sceptical about being able to make the environmentally positive changes work financially. But, having switched to Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) paper for the office, menus, napkins and toilet paper, and changing to eco cleaning products, he has no doubts that they made the right decision.
"With the paper, the quality is at least as good if not better and it has an organic feel that fits the style we are trying to achieve. As a business we now know we can achieve the margins while being more sustainable - it's the only way," Moses explains.
"When we first looked at switching our cleaning products I was doubtful because like for like the product is more expensive. But with dilution, and the fact that they actually work better, we have found they work out about 5% cheaper. There are additional benefits too - we have fewer concerns about any fire risk, they are easier to store and importantly are much nicer for staff to use."
As well as changing its purchasing policies, Cubitt House has been sure to provide its 100 floor staff with training about sustainability.
Moses adds: "They now know it's not just about where the fish and meat come from - and it is changing the way they, the customers think, too. I now believe this is the only way!"
The Sustainable Restaurant Association is a not-for-profit association helping restaurants become more sustainable. For more information and advice, visit www.thesra.org
Five ways to source sustainably
1. Review your on-food products purchasing policy Could you specify products that are easily recycled or reused in the business, or those that are made from recycled materials?
2. Look longer term Consider the whole life cost of a product, service or piece of equipment and not just the initial investment. Is is something that will last longer, be more efficient in operation or be easily reused?
3. Communicate with suppliers Be clear with your supplier about what you want from the product. They will be able to help with a specification that meets both business and sustainability requirements.
4. Speak to staff Ask staff members whether they have any suggestions for items that are wasted or inefficiently used. They may surprise you with what they notice in their day to day activities. Train the team about the reasons behind any new purchasing policy and ensure they are familiar with how to use these items most efficiently.
5. Tell the world Tell your customers about your new policy. Regulars might want to know why things have changed and others may well be impressed by the conscientious way you run your operation.