The Caterer

Robin Hutson advises starting small when it comes to sustainability

18 February 2020 by
Robin Hutson advises starting small when it comes to sustainability

These are interesting times we live in. I feel like I am constantly trying to stay ahead of the curve as the latest issues of the day emerge. If it's not some new-fangled technology or regulation to get my head around, it's the pressing topics facing the entire country.

Brexit has been the dominant subject over the past couple of years, and although no doubt there are still many more twists and turns to come with that story, at least the point of no return has been reached and we can move on knowing one substantial piece of the jigsaw has been agreed.

However, a much more complex and mind-bending subject facing us is ‘sustainability'.

Each year we hold a company summit for the 100 most senior members of the team to discuss a pressing topic facing the business. Last year it was all about staff recruitment and retention, so this year we thought we would have a good look at sustainability.

The more I thought I understood, the less I realised I actually knew

It transpired that picking that title for the summit was the easy part. The more we delved, the more it became clear that the word ‘sustainability' was not just about environmental issues. The sustainability of our business, our workforce, our guests and our position in the marketplace were also subjects to consider. We realised we face an ever-changing landscape of multiple headwinds to navigate – we have much to ‘sustain'.

It was encouraging to discover that we had several postgraduate students who hold environmental degrees, some of whom will be included in our Green Committee, which is made up from representatives across all areas of the business.

The kitchen garden at the Pig on the Beach in Studland Bay, Dorset
The kitchen garden at the Pig on the Beach in Studland Bay, Dorset

In spite of the important broader meanings of sustainability, our day was of course dominated by green issues. There again, the more I thought I understood, the less I realised I actually knew. Thanks to David Attenborough, it's easy to get your head around the fact that single-use plastic is bad news for the environment, but the relative merits of using glass, aluminium and mixed materials are very much more complicated than I imagined. Furthermore, our blind faith in the recycling system in the UK is somewhat misplaced given the limited resources that exist.

We tried to absorb some mind-boggling statistics that frankly painted a pretty gloomy picture. There is certainly a steep hill to climb. It's all too easy to take the simple way out by saying "what's the point in us doing something if the US, China or India aren't following suit?" An understandable point of view, but I have come to the conclusion that our industry generally, and my business specifically, absolutely must be in the vanguard of these massive problems. Our generation has caused them, so it should be our generation that fixes them too. There is plenty that small businesses like ours can do. I left our day concluding that just because its complicated, that can't be a reason to do nothing.

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