Making a contribution

Can your hospitality business make a difference by being more planet-friendly? By Louise Palmer-Masterton

Described by Forbes as ‘the most important documentary of the year’, I attended the premiere of David Attenborough’s new film ‘A Life on our Planet’.

Termed as his ‘witness statement’, the film contained a plethora of compelling statistics that defined the devastating problems we face if we do not stop destroying our planet. The film shows the numbers for the rapid increase in global population, the increase in carbon in the atmosphere, and the accompanying sharp decrease in unfarmed natural land.

The message is stark but the film does end with a ray of hope. Attenborough lays out the steps we need to take to quickly redress the balance and allow the planet to recover.

These steps are simpler than you might think.

  1. Rewild the rainforests to restore biodiversity. Rewild more farmland.
  2. Stop eating meat. For 11 billion humans to be carnivores is completely unsustainable.
  3. Population control – end poverty and increase access to education for all people, which will naturally lead to population control.
  4. Abandon fossil fuel in favour of renewable energy. Everyone knows this, but with pension funds and big business still investing in fossil fuels there’s a substantial way to go.
  5. Using less land in more intelligent ways to produce more food, such as vertical and urban farming.
  6. Stop waste.

How can hospitality businesses play their part?
You might think that most of this list is beyond the sphere of influence of an individual or an individual business, with international action and financial incentives needed for this to happen on a global scale.

And, while it’s correct that international action is needed, we can all instigate actions that make a difference. Some involve supporting non-profits in a financial sense, but many of the actions we can take are changes within our own supply chains which aren’t disruptive or costly.

A recent Futerra survey showed that 88 per cent of consumers want brands to help them be more sustainable, and many people utilise their purchasing power as a way to make their mark, so it’s also a shrewd business decision to make positive changes.

Consider donating a small part of your income. Attenborough states that to achieve the eradication of poverty, education, particularly of women, plays a huge part. Camfed, a charity directly impacting the education of women is an example of an organization working towards this aim.

Work with new ethical suppliers who are themselves making a difference, such as Reforest Tea. For one 500g bag of breakfast tea, costing £12, they’re able to plant six to eight trees. Perform your own sustainability audit (there are individuals and organizations that can conduct this for you, or you could simply do it yourself). For example, it’s now widely known that palm oil is one of the main reasons that the rainforest has been destroyed, so eradicating it in your home, business and supply chain is one way of making an impact.

More Plant-based Meals
It’s simply not sustainable for the 11 billion animals on the planet to eat other animals. But what does this mean for a food business that serves meat? And what if your offering is purely meat based, like a steakhouse? Fortunately/unfortunately it means you need to pivot your business model. Although it might feel like your offering is well supported now, it will become increasingly regarded as unethical in the future.

I am not lecturing, but don’t count on people wanting to continue eating as much meat in the future. Now is the time to explore plant-based options that suit your brand and develop new products that have a lesser carbon impact.

Using Renewable Energy
In pursuit of renewable energy, hospitality businesses can make a huge impact by simply moving to renewable only energy sources. And we can go one step further. Who are your investors? What are their green credentials? Do they invest in fossil fuels? Who are your partners? Who are your landlords? Scrutinize everything. Ask the questions. Take every opportunity you can to bring attention to this.

Vertical Farming
I visited Amsterdam in February. There are some super-exciting projects there with vertical and urban farms. They are a big exporter of vegetables because of this. They get a greater output from a much smaller footprint in this way. It’s now also breaking into the hospitality sector. I visited a restaurant called Juniper & Kin which is on the top floor of a tall hotel building. They have a green house on their roof and grow a high percentage of their produce there. There are a number of similar operators in the UK and it’s a hugely exciting space to be involved with.

Probably the biggest issue of all.

Food Waste
More than one third of all food produced is wasted. And with fruit and vegetables, it is almost half. In the developing world, this waste is largely down to inefficient processing, poor storage, and insufficient infrastructure. In medium and high-income countries, whilst supply chains can still be an issue, the behavior of consumers plays a much greater part. We are simply buying it and not eating it. Much of this food waste could be avoided if it were managed better.

Packaging Waste
There’s a huge amount of misinformation out there on this subject, especially with regards to single use. Packaging is a complicated subject that we’ve been immersed in researching for some time, and here is what we’ve learned:

  • The only truly sustainable, circular solution for packaging is to use products that are made from 100 per cent recycled post-consumer waste, which are then endlessly recycled. So, we are no longer using single use anything.
  • Compostable is not the answer to the issue of single use, as compostable containers are widely made from virgin materials, which increase the carbon footprint of the product, and do nothing to solve the issue of mass disposability.
  • When the world is truly plastic-free, then it may be that recycled packaging which is also compostable could play a part. But, whilst we have such huge amounts of post-consumer plastic waste, the most responsible thing we can do is recycle it. If demand for 100 per cent recycled plastic were greater, demand would also increase for manufacturers to buy post-consumer waste plastic. And so it goes on.
  • Of course, responsible use of recycled plastic products requires education, and we need to invest energy into just that. It’s a big step for us all to make in our heads because plastic has been vilified for so long, but research shows it’s moving away from single use anything that has the greatest carbon impact. The leap we all need to make is to start viewing plastic (and everything else on this planet) as a valuable commodity.

Other Waste
We are currently fitting out a new site and the driver behind our decor is reuse and recycle as far as possible. It’s been great to see that there are so many new products on the market that are composed of recycled post-consumer waste. We predict that this will explode massively in the coming months and years. From table-tops to worktops, paint, flooring, concrete, lights, innovation is everywhere. And it looks completely fab! As part of this process we have also been able to get our entire team on board – from designers to contractors, all are now also committed to the reuse and recycle way of living.

And this is probably the best way we can win hearts and minds to tackling climate change. Never underestimate the contribution that an individual or individual business can play. By changing ourselves we generate spirals of positive influence – the R number of sustainability! The more you make changes and tell others, the more people you will influence for good.

Louise Palmer-Masterton is founder of multiple award-winning restaurants Stem & Glory; hip and trendy but accessible plant-based restaurants, serving delicious gourmet vegan food from locally sourced ingredients, 100 per cent made on site. Stem & Glory also offers click-and-collect and local delivery in London and Cambridge.