Knowing whether to operate sustainably is not clear-cut in the food service industry, says Phil Jones, Heinz Foodservice director.
While ethical and eco-friendly products are pivotal to today's retail consumers, research shows that those eating out are more ambivalent, and food service operators are still largely motivated by costs when it comes to being sustainable.
The tide, however, is turning. While consumers might still see eating out as an opportunity to relax, tomorrow's diners are likely to fall into step with their retail counterparts as global warming becomes more pressing.
Caterers and suppliers to the food service industry need to be up to speed with sustainable practices, not only to satisfy whatever demands lie over the horizon, but also to safeguard their legal obligations.
The economist Sir Nicholas Stern summed it up in a recent report for the UK Government: "The world must act on climate change or face devastating economic consequences."
The food industry has a massive part to play, accounting for about 14% of energy consumption by UK businesses, seven million tonnes of carbon emissions per year, around 10% of all industrial use of public water, 10% of industrial and commercial waste stream and a quarter of all HGV vehicle kilometres.
While there are clearly ethical reasons for minimising the impact, pursuing a products approach to sustainability also makes good business sense. On top of their own operations, caterers should consider those of the brands they endorse as it could have a direct impact on their reputation as a sustainable advocate.
Operators should be looking to invest in brands that concentrate on key issues: energy use and climate change, waste, water usage and transportation. They should also be proactively doing their bit to honour the likes of EU landfill targets, EU Essential Packaging Requirements and Producer Responsibility Obligations.
Packaging makes up 3% of UK landfill, and those with reduce, reuse and recycle attitudes will play a huge part in the future of successful sustainable business.