This month, in celebration of Earth Day in April, and as a part of our Understanding Your ‘Foodprint’ series, our latest installment of Business Bites: Reaping the Benefits of Going Green discussed ethical choices to reduce your bottom line, while positively impacting the environment, with a panel of experts from chefs and restaurateurs to CEO’s of environmental organizations and consultants for food business owners.
Below, check out what we learned from our panelists about taking the steps to change your business practices to become more sustainable, and move towards a zero waste model!
LEARN FROM OTHERS
Our moderator Alek Marfisi, Owner of Upwind Strategies and instructor in ICC’s Culinary Entrepreneurship program, was joined by Christina Mitchell Grace, CEO of Foodprint Group; John Oppermann, Executive Director of Earth Day Initiative; Naama Tamir, Co-Founder of Lighthouse & Lighthouse Outpost; and Michael Chernow, Co-Founder of The Meatball Shop & Founder of Seamore’s. While their respective businesses interact with sustainable practices on varying levels, they are all passionately advocating for others in the food industry to make choices that will lessen our impact on the environment. Not only did our audience learn a lot from our panelists, but the panelists shared many helpful tips with each other, furthering the idea that a supportive community is important to fostering change.
TACKLE ONE THING
In today’s world, sustainability should be a driving factor for businesses. The word itself is defined by the avoidance of resource depletion in order to maintain an ecological balance. It is essentially what business owners should be doing every day. But often times, business owners are overwhelmed by the idea of just running their business, let alone trying to minimize their environmental impact. So our main piece of advice for getting started, just do one thing first!
Naama, whose restaurant Lighthouse Brooklyn is focused on sustainability in every aspect, created a waste system with multiple different streams. By diverting the streams to the appropriate places, like composting and creating bio-diesel with the organic waste or donating oyster shells to the Billion Oyster Project, her restaurant can make a significant impact on what ends up in landfills. Her restaurant even takes it a step further by partnering with companies to use empty wine bottles for candles and uses the corks to make tops for food jars. Lighthouse Brooklyn is a great example of how everything can serve multiple purposes and that it is possible to become zero waste in the food space.
Organize Your Space & Educate Your Team
While becoming a zero waste restaurant or food business is completely doable, it can be challenging to get there without the right tools—that’s where Christina Mitchell Grace comes in. Her company, Food Print Group, helps food and hospitality organizations design zero waste into their buildings, kitchens and front of house processes. Becoming zero waste starts from the beginning of the source, so by creating an efficient kitchen and work space, training your staff and educating your customers, it will automatically become simpler to divert waste from landfills and source separate your organics from trash.
Use Sustainably Sourced Ingredients
Others, like Michael Chernow, tackle sustainability through ingredient sourcing. The fish at his restaurant Seamore’s is 100% sustainable, sourced as close to home as possible and offered at an accessible price point. Seamore’s whole philosophy is founded on the idea introducing underutilized, undervalued local species of fish to their customers in healthy and tasty ways. By doing so, they’re working to protect our oceans from becoming depleted and educating others to keep our oceans healthy for future generations.
If seafood is not a key focus of your menu, focusing on local ingredients can be. By using ingredients that don’t have to travel far, it can cut carbon footprints by reducing long-distance transportation and will put your dollars into your local economy.
Advocate With Your Dollars
To bring the conversation together, John Oppermann discussed how Earth Day Initiative educates businesses on energy efficiency and building brand awareness around your sustainability practices. While it may be too costly to install solar panels, or even unrealistic if your building doesn’t allow it, you can actually purchase renewable energy through regular energy providers. By voting with your dollars, you’re letting your local city officials know that clean energy is important and making your voice heard in a simple way.
THE ULTIMATE GOAL: ZERO WASTE
There are big questions that need to be addressed to strategize for a future that minimizes, or hopefully eliminates, the 24,000 tons of wasted materials produced in NYC each day. Questions like, “what if every building had a compost program,” or “what if all single use coffee cups were replaced with reusable mugs?” But, one of the first steps that businesses can take to reduce this massive amount of waste is to assess opportunities for waste reduction through source separation. A surprising amount of “trash” is actually organic waste that can be composted or recycled, which will eventually get you to the ultimate zero waste goal. Taking an audit of your waste will help you identify this.
Even though zero waste is the ultimate goal, there are smaller practices that you can put into place to help you integrate sustainability into your business. Practices like buying local, using the entire ingredient, and buying in bulk are simple changes that can be made quickly. If you want even more resources to go green, check out our Business Bites Resources article here.
ABOUT BUSINESS BITES
The BUSINESS BITES, brought to you by the Culinary Entrepreneurship program at ICC, is a series of workshops, discussion panels, networking events and resources designed to support entrepreneurs in the food industry.