How To Create a More Sustainable Foodservice Operation

How To Create a More Sustainable Foodservice Operation

As you're setting business goals and intentions for the year ahead, be sure to keep our planet in mind. A 2018 Food and Health survey found that 6 in 10 consumers say it is important to them that the food they purchase or consume is produced in a sustainable way, an increase from 50% who said the same in 2017.
Here are 5 ways you can incorporate greener methods into your own foodservice operations this year:

Energy & Water Efficiency

According to the EPA, implementing water-efficient practices in foodservice establishments can decrease operating costs by 11%, energy use by 10%, and water use by 15%. In a case study also from the EPA, a Boston University cafeteria was able to save 48,000 gallons of water each year by upgrading its kitchen to high-efficiency pre-rinse spray valves.

To conserve more water:

  • Upgrading old equipment like dishwashers to ENERGY STAR® models can help conserve up to 10% of both water and energy.
  • Serve water to customers only on demand.
  • Scrap food waste into the green bin rather than washing food off in the sink.
  • Make sure dishwashers are always full, and train staff on how to properly load them.
  • Adopting low-flow pre-rinse spray nozzles help rinse dishes before they’re loaded into the dishwasher, and can cut water use by 8x.
  • Switch from broilers to steamers - equipment that relies on a broiler (combination ovens, steam cookers, etc) are very water-intensive.

To conserve more energy:

  • Heating and hot water make up 40% of the average restaurant’s energy spend. According to PGE (Pacific Gas & Electric), replacing spray nozzles with low-flow pre-rinse valves at the dishwashing section of the kitchen can save an operator 25%-60% in energy usage.
  • Switch lightbulbs to energy-efficient LED’s to cut energy usage by as much as 80%. Plus, LED bulbs last about 25x longer.
  • Replace old fridges with AA++ rated units, as these use the least amount of energy.


Agriculture can have significant impacts on the environment. Unsustainable agricultural practices can destroy soil, as well as cause water and air pollution. And, about a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions come from land use and agriculture combined. However, adopting certain regenerative farming practices can actually help combat these climate issues. Some regenerative farming practices include:

  • Eliminating pesticides and synthetic fertilizers
  • Reduced or no-till farming to minimize disruptions to the soil and allow for more diverse soil microbes
  • Cover cropping which can sequester carbon as organic matter in the soil, add nutrients to the soil, and help reduce soil erosion.
  • Compost to rebuild depleted soil
  • Increase plant diversity - farms that grow a variety of plants have healthier soil than large-scale specialized farms.

Purchasing food for your operations from local, sustainable farmers that are committed to these regenerative practices and others can help you reduce the carbon footprint of your own establishment.

You can also partner with organizations such as Zero Foodprint, a nonprofit organization that’s mobilizing the food world around agricultural climate solutions. Foodservice operators that are members of ZFP crowd-fund grants for farmers to switch to renewable farming practices by adding a 1% fee to each meal. So far, ZFP and its foodservice partners have been able to pull over 2 million gallons of gas emissions from the atmosphere so far through this program. At Lunchette, a Zero Foodprint eatery serving plant-based lunches in Petaluma, California, 95% of all waste produced is compostable.

Zero Food Waste

A study found that foodservice operators and retailers across the country contribute to a combined 24 million tons of food waste each year. And in a recent report by Champion 12.3, researchers found that for every $1 restaurants invested in programs to reduce kitchen food waste, they were able to save $7 on average in operating costs.

In order to reduce the amount of food waste your operation is producing, it’s important to understand what’s being wasted by conducting a waste audit of your business. The EPA has a helpful guide that takes restaurant owners through the steps on how to conduct and analyze a food waste assessment for your business.

Here are some tips from the NRDC on how to reduce and prevent food waste in both the front and back of house:

  • Use foods that might otherwise be discarded (like imperfect fruits and vegetables and unusual plant parts), and take a “nose to tail” approach with animal products; record any new or modified recipes.
  • Be flexible on portion sizes (e.g., offer smaller portions, half-size options, etc.).
  • Make side dishes and bread, chips, etc optional
  • Educate staff on food waste reduction
  • Donate surplus food to a food rescue organization. You can find organizations using this Food Rescue Locator tool.

HoneyFlower Foods is a sustainable grab and go meal company in Washington, D.C. that donates all uneaten meals to homeless shelters and non-profits including SOME, Cornerstones, Casa Ruby, and Martha’s Table. This is one way that HoneyFlower Foods is able to reduce their food waste and give back to their community.

After you’ve reduced, reused, and donated, be sure to compost whatever is left. In 2019, Las Olas in San Diego, California became the first full-service restaurant in North County San Diego to compost all food waste. In a single month, Las Olas was able to convert over 5,000 pounds of food scraps from the landfill and into the compost stream through The Compost Group

Local Food

According to the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, the average piece of produce in the U.S. travels 1,500 miles. Localizing your supply chain and centering your menu around local food (grown within 100 miles!) helps support local farmers in your community and is better for the planet.

Here are some ways you can incorporate more local food into your menu:

  • Use the resources listed here from the NSAC to find local farmers in your area.
  • Adjust menus seasonally to incorporate ingredients that local farmers will have available.
  • Look into whether or not there is a local RSA (restaurant supported agriculture) in your area.
  • Consider starting your own local farm or garden.

Cafe Gratitude, a small chain of Southern California plant-based eateries, supports local farmers, sustainable and regenerative agriculture, and environmentally friendly products. Ryan Engelhart, Co-Founder of Cafe Gratitude, describes how the vegan restaurant supports local farmers and regenerative agriculture in an interview with Territory Foods:

“Over the years, we’ve spent a lot of time and energy to curate an ethical supply chain. Our baseline standard is sourcing from farmers who practice organic and sustainable methods. Beyond this, we always seek producers, winemakers, and farmers who are innovating towards regenerative agriculture.

For example, we created a wine program that focused on Biodynamics. We brought all our tortilla corn from one producer named David Vetter, who is a pioneering regenerative, organic farmer. We developed a pizza and beer special focused on a perennial wheat grain called Kernza and beer from Patagonia Provisions. We purposefully have 40+ vendors rather than two or three to assure we serve products from value-aligned sources and producers.”

Compostable Packaging

By switching to compostable packaging for your takeout and delivery operations, you can help reduce your operation’s waste footprint. Compostable packaging, such as the plant-based options offered by World Centric, is the sustainable alternative to paper, plastic, and expanded polystyrene packaging.

  • Do a waste audit of your business to identify what is currently being thrown away that could otherwise be avoided, composted, or recycled.
  • Learn more about compostable packaging options and commercial composting in your area by contacting us.
  • Provide utensils, straws, and napkins with takeout and delivery only upon request and don't use bundled items.
  • Switch from plastic bags to paper and give customers a discount if they bring their own bag.

In Exeter, New Hampshire, local cafe LANEY & LU works with a dozen local farmers and merchants throughout New England to source local food that positively impacts the community’s ecosystems rather than harm them. Plus, all takeout served at LANEY & LU is packaged in compostable foodservice ware.

"We began LANEY & LU with a strong vision for inspiring community and believe that we have a responsibility to make a positive contribution in the world,” describes LANEY & LU Founder, Jennifer Desrosiers. “This is reflected in how we want our guests to feel seen and important. We mindfully source everything from our food to our supplies to our packaging. World Centric is an obvious choice for LANEY & LU. Their company values are in alignment with ours and the quality of their products bolsters our customer’s experience with our food. The food looks amazing and the packaging feels great in your hand. And, it 100% meet our sustainability ethos."

Tags: Lifestyle


Written by

World Centric


Read time

9 minutes


Published on

Jan 25, 2024

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