Monday, 04 March 2019 13:50

SRA writes recipe for foodservice to rise to the Tastiest Challenge on the Planet

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Insight report reveals urgent need to accelerate change to tackle climate change.

The UK foodservice sector must turbo charge its efforts to tackle climate change and environmental damage through a set of three ambitious but achievable targets, a new report published today by the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) concludes.

While the report, The Tastiest Challenge on the Planet, identifies pockets of progress on the big sustainability issues, it finds that the pace of change is nowhere near fast nor widespread enough, as demonstrated by the UK’s position in 24th place on the global food sustainability league table compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit and the Barilla Centre for Food and Nutrition Foundation.

Andrew Stephen, Chief Executive of the SRA, said: “The scale and urgency of the issues facing the planet are huge.  We need to challenge what we call normal, or good enough in hospitality in the UK. While the industry is taking lots of small steps, they aren’t keeping pace with the scope of what is needed. It is no longer sufficient simply to talk about being a sustainable business without targeting bigger change on the biggest issues.”  

The report evaluates the state of sustainability in the UK foodservice sector, including a review of what operators have done in 2018, an assessment of the pressing challenges ahead, it’s preparedness for tackling them, and a three-pronged action plan for the industry for 2019 and beyond.

In addition to an exclusive peak inside the backdoor of more than 6,700 commercial kitchens, via the findings of the SRA’s Sustainability Rating in 2018, the report includes insights and ideas from the boardrooms of some of Britain’s best-known and most influential hospitality businesses like Azzurri Group and JD Wetherspoon, as well as from a handful of kitchens of influential chefs including Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Raymond Blanc.

A panel of experts, including food policy expert Professor Tim Lang of City, University of London, and Nobel Prize winning climate scientist Professor Riccardo Valentini, provided the expertise in defining the actions the sector needs to take in the months and years ahead.

A string of recent high-profile scientific reports has highlighted the urgent need for action to keep the planet’s temperature rise below 1.5°C. Food waste and livestock farming account for more than 20% of man-made greenhouse gas emissions while foodservice still wastes almost one million tonnes of food and meat still dominates menus. 

The SRA is challenging operators to act decisively now to reduce meat consumption and keep food on the plate and out of the bin.

Many of the chefs and business leaders interviewed for the report revealed that they were reluctant to dictate change, feeling more comfortable facilitating a movement. The SRA believes the time has come for a more proactive approach.

The potential benefits are huge. If foodservice reduced food waste by a quarter, it could cut its carbon emissions by just under a million tonnes a year (0.9Mt) – equivalent to grounding more than 2,000 London to New York return flights. And, as the World Resources Institute and WRAP reported recently, there’s also a massive financial incentive, as the average return on investment in food waste reduction programmes coming is 7:1.

With foodservice now fully aware of the need to reduce packaging and specifically single-use plastic, the SRA has isolated this as the third target area. For, while the report notes that most responsible businesses have ditched plastic straws and there are isolated examples of more proactive action on plastic, as many as a third of SRA members continue to offer takeaway packaging that is not recyclable, reusable or compostable.

Andrew Stephen added: “These are also areas in which we see the greatest abatement potential for positive change within the sector. If everyone matched the performance of the best operators in these areas, then collectively we would achieve huge gains.

“The whole sector needs to act now, because if we don’t fix food, we can’t fix climate change. It’s time to seize the opportunity to embrace meaningful change towards a more restorative model, capturing customers’ desire for more sustainable menus, growing pressure from investors to see the businesses they have a stake in tackling the big issues and the environmental imperative to avoid climate catastrophe.”

The SRA is calling for accelerated, measurable and tangible changes in line with the achievable targets set by WRAP, in its Plastics Pact and Food Waste Reduction Roadmap, and the World Resources Institute’s Cool Food Pledge. Supported by a programme of insightful resources and inspirational events, the SRA is committed to increasing engagement with all three of these programmes to cut food-related greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2030, reduce the sector’s food waste by 25% by 2025 and meet the four targets set in the Plastics Pact.

The report makes clear that adding a single additional salad or vegetarian option to the menu is insufficient. Businesses like Zizzi and Wagamama have invested significantly in making changes to the balance of their menus and both are enjoying an uplift in sales.

Failure to measure, monitor, set reduction targets, redistribute surplus or offer customers the opportunity to take home leftovers stands out as is an enormous missed opportunity.

The business leaders interviewed for the report acknowledged that straws are the tip of the plastic iceberg and further timely, decisive action is required to remove single-use plastic from UK commercial kitchens and front of house.

Costa Coffee has demonstrated real leadership on this issue, collaborating with cup makers and the waste industry to make it possible to recycle 100m cups a year and has extended the scheme’s impact by opening it up to four of the other big players in the market, Caffè Nero, Greggs, McDonald’s and Pret A Manger.

The SRA believes that if restaurants and the wider foodservice sector do act decisively and collaboratively on these three issues now there’s an opportunity to change the behaviour of millions of customers, reduce its impact and mark itself out as a global leader.

Henry Dimbleby, Founder of Leon and a non-exec board member of Defra says in the report: “UK restaurants alone use a tiny amount of global resources, but their ability to make the weather and influence how people feel about sustainability and food is massive. And what we do, others in the world will follow.”

Read the full report here and contact the SRA to discuss how you can start tackling the tastiest challenge on the planet.

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