Restaurant Industry Insightssustainability

Restaurants Embrace the Sustainable Movement

The sustainable food movement has gained traction as the interest in local food continues to advance, and the growing concern for climate change increases. A study conducted in 2021 found that sustainability was increasingly important for consumers, particularly in animal welfare, fairness, environmental friendliness, and natural and regional production. Sustainable food refers to food produced with attention to protecting the environment, the welfare of animals, and the people that produce it. 

According to Statista, in 2021, over 80% of Americans would like more food options that support protecting the environment, and 65% are willing to pay more when dining at a sustainable restaurant. Generation Z is particularly attentive to the environmental impact of food production, with 53% influenced by sustainable food at restaurants.

Despite the current struggles restaurants face, many are continuing or starting to pursue sustainable practices. Some are going in full boar, incorporating products farmed with regenerative agriculture practices, reducing waste, composting, recycling, and using recyclable containers. Others are simply trying to make better, environmental-friendly choices each day.

The World at Large

According to Ian Fry, a UN expert on human rights and climate change, “The overall effect of inadequate actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is creating a human rights catastrophe, and the costs of these climate change-related disasters are enormous.”

The World Meteorological Organization agrees. A recent report in September 2022 found that greenhouse gas concentrations continue to increase to record highs, with heatwaves, floods, droughts, extreme storms, and wildfires going from bad to worse worldwide. According to WMO, these disasters are the price of humanity’s addiction to fossil fuels and the responding human-induced climate change. 

The Impact of the Food Industry

The food industry contributes to a significant amount of greenhouse gas emissions. A study conducted in Europe in 2021 found that more than 34% of man-made greenhouse gas emissions come from our food systems. About 70% of this amount comes from agricultural practices, while another 30% is produced by land-use changes, including solid degradation and deforestation.

Regenerative Agriculture

One of the growing practices among operators looking to increase their sustainable practices is supporting farmers practicing regenerative agriculture. Regenerative agriculture is, in part, farming and grazing practices that rebuild soil organic matter and restore soil biodiversity, practices that reverse climate change.

Zero Footprint, named 2020 Humanitarian of the Year by the James Beard Foundation and a nonprofit supporting regenerative agriculture, offers a straightforward approach to giving back. Restaurants add a 1% consumer upcharge that provides grants for farmers looking to invest in eco-friendly practices. 

According to QSR Magazine, they’ve provided over $500,000 to over 30 farms. As Wes Rowe, owner of Wesburger in San Francisco, shared, “It can be financially prohibitive to give back. In our case, switching to grass-fed beef is an extreme measure; our costs would go up, and the customers would not appreciate that for the most part. So I think that this is a pretty genius way of creating change.” While some restaurants question this tactic at a time of escalating prices, many find that most customers are happy to contribute 1 cent on the dollar to help farmers initiate better, environmentally-friendly practices

Zero Footprint launched Restore Colorado in 2021. Since then, about 11 local farmers and ranchers have received grants from the money raised. The Colorado Department of agriculture is expanding the program across the state. 

Sustainable Restaurants Making News

1 Hotel’s new signature restaurant, Terrene, in San Francisco, incorporates eco-friendly practices, initiates zero waste, and their farm-to-table ethos ensures they source ingredients from within a 100-mile-radius, when feasible. The menu features an abundance of local, organic, sustainably-sourced ingredients. The chef has a rooftop garden and beehives that produce the restaurant’s honey.

These 11 restaurants in the U.S. earned a MICHELIN Green Star for their commitment to sustainability. 

  • Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York
  • The Inn at Little Washington in Washington, D.C.
  • Osteria Mozza and Chi Spacca in Los Angeles
  • The French Laundry in Yountville
  • SingleThread in Healdsburg
  • Harbor House in Elk
  • Chez Panisse in Berkeley
  • Atelier Crenn and Bar Crenn in San Francisco
  • Quince in San Francisco


What are restaurants doing to be sustainable?

Some restaurants are taking dramatic steps to run a more sustainable operation. This may include composting, implementing energy-efficient appliances, sourcing ingredients locally, and switching to sustainable takeout packaging. Others are making subtle shifts in daily behavior, like consciously using less electricity and water and reducing waste.

Why is sustainability relevant to the restaurant industry?

The restaurant industry can significantly impact the environment, for better or worse. The steps they can take, such as cutting down on plastics and packaging waste, reducing food waste, and ordering locally, can positively impact the environment.

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