With a melancholy melody in the background, our muppet friend shared with us through song that being green was not easy. In fairness to Kermit the Frog, his plea may have been accurate back then. But times have changed. Being green is getting easier. It is becoming more popular. And, dare I suggest, it is even becoming profitable. If you have not already noticed, the green movement has – to use a current buzzword – “tipped.” Environmentally conscious policies are further penetrating the hospitality industry with every passing moment. Hotels and restaurants alike are working to implement green practices. Environmental sensitivity will have a profound effect on the way that hospitality facilities are designed, built, and operated over the next decade.
Experts have concluded that humans are consuming one-third more natural resources and ecological services than the earth can regenerate in a sustainable manner. In other words, we are running an ecological deficit. It is time to further explore what we can do as members of the hospitality community to implement existing practices, and, where possible, take the initiative to develop new practices on our own.
In my view, there are three key components to a green initiative for any hospitality and foodservice operation. First, there are the operational practices and decisions. Second, there are the building related practices which have been developed by other industries and which can be readily adopted. And finally, there are the initiatives, both operational and building related, which are specific to the hospitality industry. These are programs and practices that we as the hospitality industry must develop – because no one knows our industry better than we do.
In this installment, I want to focus on the first leg of this three-legged stool – operational practices. I have chosen to incorporate a selection of facts that will likely convince you of the importance of this issue, and certain practices that you can implement immediately. The next installment will address opportunities for exploring the hospitality environment, and developing our own industry-specific initiatives.
Operators - Could You Help Me Place this Call?
The beauty of these operational initiatives is that they require little investment or modifications to existing facility for implementation. They can be started almost immediately. In conducting my own research, I came across a simple pamphlet from the Green Restaurant Association (www.dinegreen.com). It costs only $10 USD and is full of interesting facts – many of which I will share with you here – that may help you better appreciate the importance of these green initiatives. So, here are some suggested green practices for you to consider:
Reduce, re-use, and recycle: The three “R’s,” as they are known, are classics, but their importance is underlined when you consider that the average restaurant in the US produces 50,000 pounds of garbage every year. It is estimated that 95% of that trash can be recycled or composted, but is unnecessarily thrown away instead. In 1997, a study found that less than 1% of disposable packaging in quick service restaurants was recycled. Consider the financial impact that this has on an operation as food and beverage operations are actually paying for this waste twice – when it is purchased and when it is discarded.
Purchase environmentally friendly paper products: Typical mills that use chlorine to bleach their paper products and produce the bright white napkins we have come to know and love use 40,000 to 50,000 gallons of fresh water per ton of paper pulp. This water is contaminated in the process and discarded into the environment, often introducing harmful contaminants. Chlorine free mills use only 2,000 gallons of water by comparison and do not introduce harmful toxins into the environment. Purchasing non-bleached paper products or those with recycled post-consumer content can dramatically help the environment.
Phase out Styrofoam and other polystyrene products: Styrofoam, also known as polystyrene foam, is a non-biodegradable substance that is derived from petroleum. The average American throws away 100 styrofoam cups every year. Now consider that the average expected life of every one of those cups is 500 years, and that most waste management companies are not capable of recycling styrofoam. This is a product that is subject to the price sensitivity of oil on the front end, cannot be recycled, and is often discarded shortly after use. It is easy then to see why we should explore the elimination of Styrofoam in the hospitality industry – especially because viable alternatives for nearly every Styrofoam product already exist.
Demand green practices from your purveyors: Your support of green initiatives need not start and stop at your back door. Question your purveyors about their environmental standards to see what they are doing. Are they purchasing local foods? In the US, the average calorie travels 1,000 miles between farm and plate, which has a tremendous adverse effect on the environment. Are the food producers that they are purchasing from implementing green standards on the farm? In the western US, livestock grazing near rivers, streams, and other bodies of water, has introduced large and unnatural amounts of animal waste into the water, resulting in the degradation of water quality and local wildlife habitats.
Consider “green” menu selections: Even the selections on your menu can have an impact on the environment. Organic food is not just for tree-hugging types anymore. The reality is that organic food is what humans have grown for most their existence. It is only in relatively recent history that we began using chemicals and unnatural products to enhance the appearance or yield of a particular crop. This short-term benefit, however, has a long-term cost on both our environment and our bodies that is extremely detrimental.
Did you realize that vegetarian dishes are actually better for the environment? Raising red meat require twenty times the land required to raise grains, and causes far more water pollution and emission of greenhouse gases. In another example of green menu practices, offering only sustainable fish species can help support the environment. Scientists now contend that overfishing of certain species by humans may be the single largest factor impacting the health of our oceans. It is perfectly normal to see a variety of “healthy” selections on a menu in a casual dining restaurant. I see the day where another symbol, one indicating an environmentally conscious menu selection, will be as commonplace. There is no need to modify an entire menu; offering a few green selections may be fine. In fact, you may already have them on your menu – you just need to identify them and promote them to your patrons.
Evaluate the chemicals you use: Surprisingly, relatively little is known about the possible effects on human health from most of the 17,000 common chemicals used in hospitality and foodservice operations. Further, the impact from using a combination of chemicals is even more uncertain. From routine cleaning to pest management, consider the chemicals that you are using in your operation and see if there is an environmentally friendly alternative.
Reduce water usage: Kudos to the hoteliers who long ago placed signs in their guestrooms indicating that only the towels left on the floor would be replaced. Other towels could be hung up and used again. What these hotel operators learned was this little secret – helping the environment can also save you money. It can be a cost effective platform and simultaneously help reduce operational costs when implemented strategically. Because the average restaurant utilizes 300,000 gallons of water per year, there are plenty of places to conserve.
Use alternative chafing fuels: Many of the chafing fuels used by operators emit similar byproducts to those which are emitted from the burning of diesel fuel. It is estimated that roughly 30% of the candles on the market have core wicks that contain lead. Now, consider that these byproducts are being released indoors, in a controlled environment not typically engineered to handle these pollutants. Non-toxic fuels and electric chafing dishes can be considered as an alternative.
This Stuff is WAY Too Expensive
Granted, some of the ecologically friendly products are more expensive – in the short term, anyways. However, once you consider the “total” cost of many of the operational decisions discussed above, you will find that the green approach is often less expensive – in the long run. Environmentally sensitive options are subject to the same laws of supply and demand that apply to other products.
As demand increases, so will the number of green alternatives. Manufacturers will begin to see that there is profitability potential in the segment, and then begin to shift their resources towards the development and marketing of environmentally friendly products. In fact, this is already happening. Have you joined the effort, or are you still sitting on the sidelines?