CSR in the restaurant and catering trade: Tackling food waste

A recent BBC programme, the Great British Waste Menu, should have piqued CSR consultants’ interest, as it tackled an issue relevant to a key business sector in the UK – food service. The programme showed four of our top UK chefs creating a banquet out of unwanted food that would otherwise have been thrown away.

The dishes the chefs created were judged by British food critics, not known for going easy on restaurateurs. It turns out that food judged unsuitable for consumption, from every part of the food chain, including homes, farms, markets and supermarkets, is actually perfectly edible. It might just look a bit funny.

According to the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC), shops throw out 1.6m tonnes of edible food every year. In March this year, the government-funded Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) estimated that restaurants and catering businesses bin 3m tonnes of food a year.

This is clearly a CSR issue as throwing out food is not only a waste of resources and money, but contributes to our carbon footprint. Friends of the Earth estimates that thee food supply chain accounts for around a fifth of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The total estimated economic costs within the UK food and drink supply chain, for food and drink and packaging waste, excluding households, was around £5 billion. This breaks down into: manufacture £2.5 billion; distribution £0.11 billion and retail £2.35 billion and even excludes losses from the agriculture and hospitality sectors.

If CSR means doing business better, then tackling food waste is clearly something which needs to be dealt with as a matter of urgency.

The UK’s Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA), was set up to address this issue, as well as other CSR initiatives. It is a membership organisation whose aim is to transform its restaurants into global leaders in sustainability in three areas: environment, sourcing and society. Founded by restaurateurs themselves, it is a not-for-profit organisation, providing advice and support to members.

So restaurants are starting to do their bit in the CSR arena and we need to do ours. The SRA is trying to encourage us, the public, to support them, by spending our money in their member restaurants. Surely that’s not too great a sacrifice?

Photo credit: J Bloom