As global leaders gather in Glasgow, Scotland, for the COP26 climate summit, it’s increasingly clear that we are at a pivotal moment for climate change. A series of climate reports paint a grim picture, projecting that immediate and impactful changes are needed to halt or reverse the consequences of a warming planet.
While the restaurant industry isn’t responsible for climate change, the sector can make meaningful changes to support sustainability efforts and reduce the impact of climate change. Collectively food systems account for 34 percent of man-made greenhouse gas emissions, presenting an opportunity for restaurants to do their part to meet this urgent moment.
Specifically, the restaurant industry can turn to a new generation of technologies to enhance sustainability and improve climate impact at a critical time. For restaurant decision-makers looking to excel in these critical areas, here are three ways to harness readily available technologies to enhance sustainability and reduce climate impact.
1. Monitor On-site Food Storage Solutions
Hot and cold food storage is essential for restaurants to provide safe and delicious food to their guests. However, power outages, equipment malfunctions, refrigeration failures, outdated equipment, and human error can compromise these efforts, producing unnecessary on-site food waste.
For example, the food industry wastes 1.6 billion tons of food annually, an incredible amount that accounts for one-third of the global food supply chain. Not only does this mean that less food reaches dining room tables, but it has enormous climate implications, as well. According to The Boston Consulting Group, food waste accounts for 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
As The Atlantic succinctly conveys, “Addressing food waste would be low-hanging fruit: The country could save money, emit less carbon into the atmosphere, alleviate the burden on landfills, reduce the number of animals subjected to life on a factory farm, and address its hunger crisis just by eating all the food it makes.”
In addition to the climate implications, these failures contribute to $1.2 trillion in lost revenue. Many restaurants write off food waste as an inevitable part of doing business. Consequently, they are missing a chance to reduce harmful food waste while boosting profitability.
Specifically, the burgeoning ecosystem of IoT-connected devices presents an opportunity for restaurants to monitor their physical assets, including hot and cold storage units, ensuring optimal performance and identifying shortcomings before they compromise food safety or create food waste.
For instance, IoT technologies can constantly monitor refrigeration levels, ensuring that units maintain optimal temperatures to perfectly balance food safety and energy conservation priorities. The outcomes can be incredible. According to one estimate, IoT technologies could reduce food waste by 50 percent by 2030, saving restaurants money as they responsibly respond to climate change realities.
2. Conserve Energy without Flicking a Switch
Restaurants consume exorbitant amounts of energy, outpacing most other commercial buildings. Cooking, water heating, refrigeration, and climate control, account for 80 percent of overall energy consumption.
Reducing energy consumption is good for the environment and great for restaurant owners’ bottom lines. One industry report found that lowering energy consumption by 20 percent increases a restaurant’s profitability by one percent, a meaningful metric as many restaurants strive to enhance their financial outlook after a pandemic year.
To reduce energy consumption, some restaurants should consider investing in the latest equipment, which often offers more energy-efficient alternatives to their outdated counterparts.
Of course, this can be a significant investment for restaurants. That’s why outfitting existing units with IoT sensors to monitor or automatically adjust settings to optimize energy consumption can similarly deliver compelling results.
Especially when outfitted with dashboard technology that allows restaurant managers to implement broad energy reduction measures, these technologies can go a long way towards creating more sustainable and profitable operations.
3. Don’t Let Water go to Waste
Water is central to a restaurant’s operations. It’s used for cooking, cleaning, refreshments, and several other tasks. Similarly, the average restaurant uses up to 7,000 gallons of water per day, consuming resources in ways that are often inefficient and increasingly unsustainable.
While the cost of water varies by location, it’s a meaningful expense with implications for climate change and sustainability.
Once again, upgrading outdated or inefficient appliances offers long-term cost savings and efficiency gains. However, even retrofitting existing units with high-efficiency nozzles and usage moderators can improve overall efficiency.
What’s more, a variety of IoT technologies equip restaurant managers to monitor everything from water usage to humidity levels, helping them identify leaks and malfunctioning equipment early and often.
Taken together, restaurants can expect to reduce consumption while improving their margins without significant investments in new equipment or technological infrastructure.
Climate change is an urgent problem, and government leaders, climate activists, and everyday consumers are pushing restaurants to do their part to provide a solution. By giving attention to food waste, energy consumption, and water usage, restaurants can reduce their climate impact while enhancing their revenue capacity, making urgent action advantageous for everyone.
Manik Suri is the founder and CEO of technology company Therma°. Therma° IoT-powered temperature monitoring and analytics prevent food, product, and energy waste – leading drivers of climate change. Therma° has partnered with national restaurant brands to supply chain leaders in food and healthcare to increase profits while protecting our planet. Before founding Therma°, Manik co-founded the Governance Lab (GovLab), an innovation center at NYU that developed technology solutions to improve government. He is a former Affiliate of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society and has held positions at global investment firm D.E. Shaw & Company and the White House National Economic Council.