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The labels to look for to shift your restaurant’s ingredients into a more eco-friendly future

Have your restaurant customers ever asked where an ingredient is from? Or if something is sustainably sourced? As we become more aware of our actions on a global scale, eco-aware consumers are making choices based on the impact of their action.

You can market your ‘green’ food and drink in advertising and menus, encouraging customers to make positive choices. A combination of certified ingredients along with sourcing and promoting local, organic produce will maximise the sustainable nature of your menu.

One of the easiest ways to move to a more eco-friendly restaurant is to offer seasonal menus with local produce and sustainable imports. Depending on your location and access to producers, this may include working directly with local producers to source fresh, local produce, while engaging with wholesale suppliers for other ingredients.

Local or certified?

Whether to choose local or imported and certified products is not always an easy question. For instance, fruit and vegetables are usually best when they are in season, and preferably local. Out-of-season and exotic produce are usually associated with higher environmental impacts, especially if they are grown in heated greenhouses, imported by plane or grown in areas with high biodiversity. Fortunately, there are certification schemes for many products that will help you and your customers make the most appropriate choice.

There are a number of environmental standards and labels relating to different food types. Most of them ensure reduced resource consumption, avoiding areas of high environmental value, reduced soil erosion, reduced air and water pollution. Some examples of widely-used third-party environmental standards and labels are:

  • Better Sugarcane Initiative (BSI) – 48 metric benchmarks for sugarcane growers and processors.
  • Common Code for the Coffee Community Association (4C) – ten unacceptable practices and a code matrix of 28 principles for which farmers and processors are scored 'green', 'yellow' or 'red'.
  • Fairtrade – exemplary social standard which contains requirements for land use and good environmental management principles.
  • Global Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) – 94 000 certified producers in over 100 countries. Focuses on hygiene, health and safety but also promotes positive environmental practices.
  • Organic agriculture – awarded in compliance with EU Regulations.
  • Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) – three principles and associated criteria to ensure fishery is sustainable.
  • Rainforest Alliance (RA) – social and environmental criteria applied to over 100 different types of crop from Hawaii, Africa, Latin America and Asia.
  • UTZ – Code of Conduct for coffee, cacao and tea producers comprising 175 control points across 11 different themes.

A more complete list can be found in the European Commission’s Best Environmental Management Practice in the Tourism Sector report (2013). The report also distinguishes between ‘basic’ and ‘high’ environmental performance standards depending on how stringent and relevant their requirements are, and lists which ones apply to each of the most common product groups. Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) is an example of 'basic' standards while the Better Sugarcane Initiative (BSI) and Common Code for the Coffee Community Association (4C) are examples of 'high' standards.

The report defines as Benchmarks of Excellence (i.e. the level of performance achieved by frontrunner hotels) that:

  • Detailed information, at least including the country of origin, is available for all main ingredients (meat, fish, potatoes, pasta, beans, etc.).
  • At least 60% of food and drink products, by value, are certified to basic or high environmental standards.
  • At least 40% of food and drink products, by value, are certified to high environmental standards.

The EC Tourism Sustainability Group also recommend at least 25% of produce be locally sourced.

Environmental standards and labels are easy to find – any supplier offering labelled food and drink will promote the standards they supply. Once your supplier is aware of your requirements, they should be able to help you source ingredients meeting the relevant standards. It may be that a number of your regular orders are already certified. Check this up with your supplier, as it is worth knowing and sharing.

Staff education is an important part of successfully promoting your eco-friendly shift. Front of house staff will be able to easily relate using certified ingredients to customers, if they have a good understanding of the related standards and labels. The same applies with locally-sourced produce. A sense of local pride for regional produce, especially in high tourist areas, where customers include a high share of regional or international visitors, can be shown by staff when describing the short journey from farm to plate.

Another option is to follow the lead of the Argyll Hotel, Iona, Scotland. As part of their commitment to sustainable food, they supply a food source sheet with their menu, showing where ingredients have come from and how far they have travelled. While they do produce much of their ingredients on site, this idea could also be very effective for promoting food labels and environmental standards to your diners.

Do you want to know more about this topic? Check the following best practice: