Viewpoint: Embrace the sustainability challenge

13 November 2019 by
Viewpoint: Embrace the sustainability challenge

Change is challenging, but making your business more sustainable can also be an enjoyable process and is ultimately necessary for the survival of our industry, says Skye Gyngell

It's a challenge to initiate and create true change. It can seem overwhelming and it's easy to feel at a loss of where to start, but I have found that change is possible by simply taking that first small and imperfect step. Any change, however small, will inevitably involve compromise, but this is critical if real change in our industry is to occur.

The stark reality is that change must occur, and it needs to be authentic and real. We have taken three crucial steps in our journey so far. The first was to seek out a small organic farm, the biodynamic Fern Verrow in Herefordshire, and to create a true and authentic, mutually beneficial relationship with them that is economically viable for both.

I believe it all starts with the soil: good, clean, nutrient-rich, healthy soil equals beautiful produce for us to use in the kitchen; and healthy, clean, intensely flavourful, nutrient-rich produce for our guests. It feels good to contribute to a healthy farm landscape.

I believe that the current highly industrialised agricultural methods are catastrophic for the planet, depleting the soil of nutrients, wiping out biodiversity and poisoning both the earth and its inhabitants. The way we eat now is literally killing us.

The second step was to address the waste problem. Globally a third of all food grown on the planet is discarded at source. A quarter of the world's water supply is used on this food, just to put it in perspective.

In 2016 we started the scratch menu, which is a £20 no-choice menu that we serve in the early evening. This has reduced our waste to just over 5%. People have responded incredibly positively to the idea. It has been great for business too – filling the room early evening and generating extra income for the business.

The third is eliminating single-use plastic from the business, which we did in 2018. In order to do this, I found it incredibly helpful to be armed with facts and statistics, and for it to really work the whole business needs to be on board and believe in the idea.

One statistic in particular keeps it in perspective for me. We worked out that in our business we used 800 miles of cling film a year – nearly the length of Great Britain.

There are approximately 15,000 food outlets in London, and if they all used 800 miles of clingfilm a year, that would equal 12 million miles of plastic from just one city!

It was challenging and initially there was a financial outlay, but that has balanced out now just over a year and a half down the line.

We work daily without any single-use plastic and genuinely don't notice it anymore. I've enjoyed the challenges and am proud of our achievements. As a business we still need to do more, and I urge you to do the same.

Skye Gyngell is chef-patron of Spring at Somerset House on London's Strand

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