Dine Brands, which owns IHOP and Applebee’s, is committed to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) efforts. The organization has set ESG priorities that include minimizing food and packaging waste, working with a more sustainable supply chain, donating food to the food insecure in their communities, reducing their carbon emissions, and increasing diversity and inclusion initiatives.
I’m very pleased to see that more restaurants are embracing (or amplifying) ESG initiatives, and I’m certain that this is a trend that will continue. As restaurants and other food businesses work to become more responsible ESG stewards, they’d be wise to:
Assess supply chains’ ESG practices. Your restaurant might be reducing waste, switching to sustainable packaging, and donating to worthy causes, but are your suppliers equally committed to ESG initiatives? As the old adage says, we’re only as good as the company we keep. Therefore, it’s essential to examine the quality of your supply chain, working with suppliers who are committed to ESG efforts, as well. Use innovative digital tools to get a better handle on your supply chain. Now, it’s simple to organize supplier certifications into a system you can see and manage. Today’s game-changing software tools are accessible, affordable, and user-friendly—and are disrupting traditional market software. These tools allow companies to track which suppliers have environmental, sustainability, and compliance certifications. They also allow food brands to learn more about where their raw materials are coming from, who is processing them, and what practices they follow. These tools are instrumental for restaurants to learn which suppliers have strong ESG goals and practices—so they can stop working with vendors that are not committed to ESG efforts.
Reduce waste. Food waste is a $408 billion annual problem in the U.S. The faculty director of the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic, Emily Broad Leib, said, “The scale of this problem is huge—and it’s actually a really stupid problem.” She added, “The fact that there are so many people in this country going without food and at the same time, we are wasting so much? It needs to change.” Restaurants—and their suppliers—must make every effort to reduce the amount of waste they produce. Conduct a food waste audit so you can see where you’re wasting food (and money). Stop ordering (or prepping) too much food than you can reasonably use. Don’t toss leftovers that could be repurposed for the next day’s meals—like chicken bones that could become stock, veggie scraps that could be added to soup, and overripe fruits that could become sauces or desserts. Luckily, the latest tech tools can help reduce food waste through better inventory, ordering, sales forecasting, etc. In addition to reducing food waste, it will also save your restaurant significant money. And if, despite your best efforts, you still have excess food at the end of the night, donate it to local shelters or soup kitchens to help underserved populations in your community.
Find more sustainable solutions. Many restaurants (and their suppliers and partners) are successfully eliminating single use plastics (e.g., plastic utensils, straws, takeout containers) for more sustainable options, like silverware, metal straws, and reusable takeout containers. Consider offering small discounts to guests who bring their own reusable containers (or travel coffee cups) for to go orders. Trade in single-use paper menus for more durable options or forgo “hard copy” menus for QR codes instead. Stop using paper towels, napkins, and placemats, replacing them with reusable, washable cloth versions instead.
Revamp your menu. Simple adjustments can make your menu more sustainable. For instance, add some plant-based meals, since environmental experts advise reducing meat and dairy to help decrease greenhouse gas emissions and lower your carbon footprint. As an added bonus, plant-based ingredients are often significantly less expensive than meat-based meals. Additionally, buy in-season (cheaper and fresher) items from local vendors that are committed to sustainability. Buying local helps reduce long-distance shipments and the associated transportation-driven pollution (emissions, fuel use) and food rot (e.g., produce traveling long distances often rots on hot trucks before reaching its final destinations). Plus, supporting local farms and other businesses helps strengthen communities.
Embrace vertical farming. Did you know that “traditional” farming is not always environmentally friendly? Some farmers destroy soil, use harmful pesticides, contribute to high emissions from truck transport, waste significant water, etc. Therefore, some restaurants are opting to work with suppliers that have switched to vertical farming. As compared to traditional farms, vertical farms use fewer resources, lower emissions, and reduce transportation by locating operations near the point of consumption. Shockingly, the U.S. uses more than one billion pounds of pesticides annually in traditional farming, which negatively impacts ecosystems. In contrast, vertical farms grow pesticide-free produce in controlled, protected environments. Vertical farms also use up to 98 percent less water than traditional farms.
Commit to ethical practices. Increasingly, consumers want to give their business to ethical companies. People are angry about many social injustices, including income inequality, lack of action around climate change, unethical product sourcing, and more. Consumers are doing their research and are favoring businesses that prioritize ethical and environmental practices. They want to see organizations commit to sustainable and ethical sourcing of raw ingredients, safe and transparent supply chains, reducing their carbon footprint, using sustainable packaging, and treating employees fairly.
Replicate restaurants’ impressive ESG initiatives. Chipotle is a brand that goes the extra mile with bold ESG goals. Their real ingredients are responsibly sourced and prepared with people, animals, and the environment in mind. They bought 35.7 million pounds of local produce—an investment of more than $40.2 million in support of local food systems—and will continue relying on local, sustainable farmers. They’ve also identified key water risk areas in their supply chain to inform their water conservation strategy. Replicate what companies like Chipotle are doing. Hold yourself—and your suppliers—accountable for cultivating a better world.
Focus on your people. When setting (and achieving) ESG goals, prioritize your people, especially during the ongoing labor shortage that’s plaguing our industry. If you aren’t already doing so, implement fair and equitable labor practices, and increase your commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. These practices can positively impact retention, brand perception, customer service, guest satisfaction and loyalty, and restaurants’ overall business performance. Investing in your workforce and providing a safe, fair, equitable place to work is always the right way to operate.
As president of RizePoint, the longest-lasting quality management vendor in the marketplace, Kari Hensien has been instrumental in launching the company’s Ignite Supplier Certification Management solution and adding new features to make the platform even more valuable. Ignite allows companies to gather, organize, and manage supplier documentation and information in a centralized location, track status and deadlines, ensure compliance, and reduce time-consuming administrative tasks. Ignite leverages the latest tech stacks in cloud computing to deliver better speed of service, security, and performance, with shortened development cycles. For more information or to discuss RizePoint’s solutions, please contact Kari at email@example.com.