Increase Green Efforts on the Planet and Increase Profits
In its newest location, Noble Pie Parlor of Reno, Nevada, incorporated an herb garden into its décor. The addition is not only eye-catching; it is also practical. When appropriate, the herbs are used in cocktails served from the bar and incorporated into pizza sauces and other menu items.
The herb garden concept is on trend when it comes to consumer expectations. As diners’ behavior shifted during the pandemic from indoor eating to takeout and delivery, their environmental mindset changed too. In an April 2020 McKinley survey, 57 percent of respondents reported making changes to their lifestyle during COVID-19 to lessen their environmental impact. In a survey by GreenPrint released in February 2021, 77 percent of Americans stated they are concerned about the environmental impact of the products they buy.
“Consumers are increasingly sophisticated in their understanding of sustainability and are paying much closer attention to how items are manufactured, how they are sourced and how they are packaged,” says Julie Brannen, Director of Sustainability Solutions at Monadnock Paper Mills. “Managing all aspects and impacts of sustainability requires a formal framework and a long-term commitment from leadership.” The process involves thinking through how you are sourcing food and products for your place. It also encompasses considerations of energy use and waste reduction. To truly be effective, however, the strategy will account for costs, benefits, and ultimately, an opportunity for higher profits.
Take an inventory. Before making any changes, it’s good to know your starting point. “Look around at all of the materials you source,” Brannen says. This could include food items, food service items, décor, signage, and marketing items, such as direct mail brochures or flyers. Then ask, “Is this recyclable or reusable?”
The survey can include energy and water consumption within the pizzeria. For instance, are staff members careful to turn off lights when they are not in use? What about appliances, kitchen equipment, food warmers and other items that use electricity? A study on how water is used can also serve as a beginning. If you look at utility bills from past months, you’ll be able to quickly see what the average overall consumption is for the restaurant.
Consider moving away from plastic. “Paper is one of the most recycled commodities in the world,” Brannen says. Today’s selection of paper products for restaurants includes menus, signage, POP (point-of-purchase) displays, and even gift cards. If the idea of using paper sounds flimsy, research prices, look at reviews and consider trying a sample before making any commitment. Also keep in mind the paper industry has evolved during the last several years. “Paper can be durable enough when it’s specifically engineered for its intended purpose,” Brannen says.
Increase conservation practices. Holding a meeting to gain input on ideas for increasing conservation efforts gives team members the chance to weigh in and feel part of the effort. They may want to make a chart or checklist that serve as reminders to turn off lights and other electrical equipment when possible. They may also come up with long-term strategies to reduce waste and cost, such as moving away from paper receipts and instead using digital tickets that are sent to an e-mail. Digital menus and staff communication also reduce the strain (and price) of paper consumption. “If offering takeout and delivery, only include single-use utensils, straws and napkins on request,” says Lauren Olson, zero waste manager at World Centric. “Most people eating at home will prefer to use their own reusable utensils.”
There may be opportunities to reduce food costs as well. A garden or potted herbs could provide fresh ingredients and be spotlighted, as in the case of Noble Pie Parlor’s newest location. A compost pile could be created if space allows on the property.
Look at return on investments. “When it comes to environmental sustainability, reputational risk can prove to be more costly than you think,” Brannen says. “Consumers will choose establishments that align with their values.” Nearly two-thirds of Americans stated they were willing to pay more for sustainable products, according to the GreenPrint study. Moreover, 78 percent of survey respondents were more likely to buy a product that is clearly labeled as being friendly to the environment.
Before shifting to alternative materials, such as pizza boxes made of recycled materials, it’s worth looking into costs. Consider how the material is produced, what happens to it after it is used, and how switching would impact your own costs. You might decide to increase prices to align with increases in green packaging.
Publicize the process. “Once you’ve decided to take on sustainability, it gives you an opportunity to educate your customers,” Brannen says. “Marketing is important — let them know you care about them and the community and are demonstrating that through sustainable sourcing practices.”
Using products that can easily be recycled or are biodegradable will usually catch customers’ eyes if they are correctly labeled. Dough Boys Pizza, a pizzeria in Austin, Texas, uses the WorldCentric PizzaRound, which is a 100-percent tree-free pizza container made from plant-based materials. The PizzaRounds are compostable and break down in several months. Customers of Dough Boys Pizza have noticed the difference and the eco-minded efforts.
There are tools you can use to quantify your impact reductions and better share your story. EPA WasteWise, for instance, is a free and voluntary program. You can use the tools offered through the program to understand and reduce your waste stream. You can then include the statistics in e-mail messages or on signs within the restaurant.
One of the easiest ways to spotlight your green efforts is to simply share your journey as you experience it. Use social media like Instagram or Facebook, or videos on YouTube, to show what changes you’ve made. Consider sharing monthly or quarterly updates to track your progress. Team members might be interested in sharing their ideas with the public and noting how their suggestions have been implemented. Another idea: customer testimonials. Ideally, these satisfied diners will share how they’re pleased with the sustainability efforts they see, and then invite others to come and check it out.
Rachel Hartman is a freelance writer who covers small business, finance and lifestyle topics.