Eating Green: Exploring the Triple Bottom Line

The recent Stanford Study called to attention the reason so many folks choose organic foods over conventionally grown, and it’s not necessarily nutritional value.  The study asserted that conventional is the same as organic, nutritionally speaking.

And then the uproar in the media began!  Or was it a backlash?

As it turns out, many people choose organics because of the negative effects of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers on our health and our planet.  It draws into focus the more broad appeal of sustainability: that people are not just concerned about taste and nutrition, but also leaving a healthy planet for the next generation.

Likewise, restaurant owners are concerned with the taste of their food, and also the impact of their choice on the environment and their workers.  Whether you think of it as the triple bottom line (people, planet, profit) or sustainable (local, green, fair): the way we think of food and business is broadening.

Restaurants and chefs have the power to educate and change habits.  Do you really think that home sous-vide machines would be popular if Thomas Keller and Wylie Dufresne hadn’t started using them in their restaurants? And obviously, locally and organically sourced vegetables have led a surge in the number of farmers’ markets in the region.

It’s easy to celebrate responsible sourcing, whether for you that means local, seasonal, organic, or fair-trade, and of course we should celebrate it — but running a sustainable business is a fundamental part of selling a genuinely sustainable product. Restaurants in particular have a tremendous opportunity to revise their status quo towards more sustainable standards.

Many chefs and restaurants have been reluctant to take up a commitment to “the triple bottom line” because taking care of people and planet seem antithetical to profit. What if you paid your employees a little bit more, gave them staff meals, health insurance or other on-the-job perks? Would this extra outlay ultimately hurt your bottom line?  Not necessarily.  If your employee turnover decreases, training costs decrease, and your bottom line improves. You’re treating your employees right and improving your profits.

For those of us familiar with the serve safe examination, or who’ve been inspected by the health department, we know that we’re supposed to use  an ice bath to cool down stocks/soups before putting in the walk-in. Not only is it a good practice, it’s good for the environment too.  Using the ice-bath reduces stress on the refrigeration system, reducing electric bills, and maintaining the shelf-life of all the other items in the cooler.

Part of the reason there’s so much opportunity in the restaurant world is because there’s such a broad scope of resources that restaurants use and are liable to waste. Food waste is only the beginning, but what a place to start: according to the Green Restaurant Association, most restaurants waste about 30% of their food annually, or about 100,000 pounds in the average restaurant.  This waste comes in the form of vegetable peelings, trim as well as spoilage. IIf your restaurant has $1 million in sales and reduces food waste to 5%, that’s the equivalent of adding $25,000 to your bottom line. Even worse, according to a California energy supplier, restaurants waste 80% of their total energy budget on inefficient food handling and storage, accounting for $8 billion worth lost annually. Inefficient water use can also waste hundreds to thousands of gallons of water a week.

Beyond these basic resources — food, water, and fuel — there’s a whole host of ways to incorporate efficiency, responsibility, and frugality throughout your entire chain of operations. From tiny actions, like labeling your storage clearly, to big investments, like designing a green building and partnering with local non-profits, making some of these changes offers tremendous potential to affect not only your environmental profile and your profit margin, but customer satisfaction as well. According to the National Restaurant Association, 70% of consumers are more likely to visit environmentally-conscious restaurants, and 80% want their dining dollars to support causes they believe in, whether it’s environmentalism or fair labor practices.

So what can you do? Here’s a handy table with some suggestions for quick fixes, and more in-depth actions to think about long-term.

Each of these action steps has a big impact on how efficiently you’re using your resources, time, space, and budget. The best part? Improvement in each element of a triple bottom line improves the others, creating a win-win-win scenario. Start thinking about how you can tweak your operations to become a stronger business — and a more sustainable one, in every sense.

What changes are you thinking about making? Let us know your success stories, tips, and recommendations at@JuliaShanks!

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