Stephen Jardine: Sustainability on menu to save cash

If YOU decided to open a restaurant, what would be your priorities?

Stephen Jardine. Picture: Jon Savage

Securing a great location and hiring a brilliant chef? Then you might think about menus and how to make yourself stand out.

With so much to worry about and the restaurant trade still emerging from the recession, you might imagine that sustainability would be quite low on the list of issues to address. In fact, the opposite seems to be the case.

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Next week the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) will hold its biggest ever showcase in Scotland. Set up five years ago to help restaurants develop their green credentials, the SRA now has more than 300 member businesses.

So why put time and effort into something that won’t impact on the bottom line? Well the fact is, it does.

A survey for Ethical Index showed 70 per cent of people would be more likely to eat in a restaurant with good environmental credentials. Add in the fact that a 20 per cent cut in waste could reduce food purchase costs for the average restaurant by £2,000 a year and you have an argument for change.

Then think about the high cost of daily waste collection for restaurants and only a millionaire fool would pretend sustainability doesn’t matter.

So what should you be looking for in a sustainable restaurant? The SRA focuses on three key areas.

The most obvious is sourcing, which includes ethical meat, sustainable fish and local and seasonal produce.

The environment category addresses waste in the workplace such as water saving and energy efficiency.

Finally, the association looks at the big picture through issues like community engagement and healthy eating.

Within these groups, 14 activities are measured and the result translates into star rating awarded by the SRA.

This year the top-rated restaurant in Scotland is Iglu in Edinburgh, which achieved three stars and an 89 per cent sustainability score.

With 90 per cent of the produce served organic and Scottish, doggy bags available to cut food waste and suppliers encouraged to take away their packaging, it sets a high standard.

The best performing restaurants when it comes to sustainability seem to be independents who have always believed it to be important.

For well-established national chains, changing to sustainable practices isn’t always easy to achieve.

The exception to that is McDonalds. By switching to free range eggs, organic milk and Freedom Food Pork, it made a huge contribution to British sustainable farming, even if cynics might say that only partly compensates for the damage done to the nation by fast food.

It’s early days in the fight to get restaurants to commit to sustainable practices. But with restrictions on waste growing tighter, the smart businesses are getting on board while they still have a choice in the matter.