Supermarkets have wooed customers for years now by pushing sustainable policies, and now an organisation has been set up to help restaurants do the same. Kerstin Kühn looks at how Ethical Eats will get its message across
While many of the UK's retailers and supermarkets have responded to their customers' concerns regarding both sustainable and ethical business practices, restaurants, until now, have largely escaped scrutiny.
But with UK consumers now spending more money eating out than buying food to cook at home, it seems the time has come for restaurants to follow the lead set by the retail sector and develop more environmentally sustainable practices.
A new organisation has been set up to promote green issues among London's restaurants. Ethical Eats is a group established by London Food Link, a division of the food and farming charity Sustain, which aims to help restaurants adopt environmentally friendly business practices and help them provide diners with information on how they are working to achieve this.
It is essentially a network of restaurants that brings its members together to discuss how they can become more sustainable, providing both expert advice and support on green issues.
Charlotte Jarman, project officer for London Food Link, explained: "Our aim is to enable restaurateurs to make their businesses more sustainable, and we hope that our existing partners will be able to inspire others to join the network and do the same."
She said that, although the organisation is still young, the response from the industry has been positive.
"A lot of restaurants are already doing a lot to become more environmentally friendly, but there is a general sense of a lack of advice and assistance, which Ethical Foods aims to address," Jarman said.
This lack of support expressed by hospitality businesses was highlighted in a survey by purchasing consortium Beacon, which suggested that two-thirds of operators in England and Wales felt there was not enough help or advice from government on ways of making their business more environmentally friendly.
Beacon utilities and services buyer Ben Waters said: "The majority of businesses in the hospitality industry are making efforts to change the way they operate. But there appears to be a general feeling that more advice and support should be available, and businesses are not sure where to go to find this."
Allegra McEvedy, co-owner and chef at healthy fast-food chain Leon, agreed, adding that she warmly welcomed the support Ethical Eats will bring to the sector.
"It's amazing how little support there has been until now for chefs and restaurateurs who care about the environment," she said. "I cannot stress what a difference Ethical Eats will make by helping us and other like-minded businesses to get the right information and advice."
However, not everyone's response has been as positive. Caroline Bennett, founder of Japanese sushi chain Moshi Moshi, said that, while the initiative looks great on paper, it needs to provide practical support to make a difference.
"I have had meetings where they send around experts to identify areas of your business that need to be improved to make it more environmentally friendly," she said.
"But while it's a positive step to look at these issues, there needs to be practical, hands-on advice, and I haven't received any of that yet. For Ethical Eats to work it is vital to provide hands-on advice on how to adopt sustainable business practices."
Bennett points to the use of more environmentally friendly energy, recycling, and finding suppliers providing sustainable produce as the main issues facing restaurants wanting to make changes.
"It's not easy to implement changes, and simply switching to green electricity or recycling your waste isn't always practical," she said.
So while Ethical Eats seems a positive step towards a more environmentally friendly restaurant industry, it needs to provide practical support to ensure restaurants can follow its advice.
If it can provide hands-on solutions as well as a platform for restaurants to communicate their efforts with customers, Ethical Eats could well make the difference the industry needs to follow the supermarkets' lead.
Restaurants and other catering businesses interested in joining the Ethical Eats network can contact Charlotte Jarman on 020 7837 1228 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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