Over the last few years in the restaurant industry, the word ‘sustainability' has gone from novel concept to menu staple - no longer the preserve of the edgy naturalistic pop-ups, but a basic requirement for how all restaurants source their ingredients.
It’s hard to think of any other industry that has so wholeheartedly embraced the idea of reducing its carbon footprint in the face of accelerating climate change. Chefs and restaurateurs were among the first to the table and have demonstrated a commitment to changing the way they do business and to inspire change in the way people eat. It is a movement that has been recognised in new research by Barclays Corporate Banking in the UK, which shows that the hospitality and leisure sector is the industry most concerned about reducing its carbon footprint.
When asked how important environmental sustainability was to their organisations, 70% of respondents from within hospitality and leisure said it was ‘extremely important', well ahead of the survey average of 61%.
While forward-thinking chefs and the pioneering farm-to-table movement can be credited for planting seeds of change before the issue reached mainstream consciousness, the momentum they built has grown to encompass all sides, from suppliers to investors and partners, and especially customers. Indeed, customers’ willingness to support sustainable models, and pay more for higher-quality, more environmentally friendly food, demonstrates a way forward for other industries.
The research showed that 60% of hospitality and leisure bosses said that sustainability was very important to their investors and shareholders, the highest response across any industry, with 70% saying it was very important to their customers, and 63% saying it was very important to their suppliers.
The restaurant industry is not alone in its concern for the environment, but its pro-active leadership might be explained because of the food system’s vulnerability to the effects of climate change, even in the short term.
French winemakers are expected to produce a third less wine this year after the grape harvest plunged 29% due to extreme weather, frost and disease during spring and summer of this year. Many of France’s most important regions, including Bordeaux, Champagne and Languedoc-Roussillon, were adversely affected by unseasonal spring frosts this year. The Champagne region was particularly hard hit by frost, heavy rains and mildew fungus, which could see production of the sparkling wine down by 39% on last year. Burgundy-Beaujolais production is expected to be down 50%. The country’s minister for agriculture, Julien Denormandie, described the grape and fruit crop devastation as “probably the greatest agricultural catastrophe of the beginning of the 21st century”.
It’s not just France that is grappling with the effects of disastrous growing conditions. Italy is reporting that fruit yields will be down this year by 27% due to spring drought, violent storms and flooding. Pear production is particularly hard hit, falling 69%, while peach production is down 48%.
These statistics illustrate starkly the vulnerability of the food system and how the effects of climate change can have the potential to collapse within a single growing season. People who work with seasonal ingredients throughout the year are acutely aware of the fragility of it all.
On a more positive note, the restaurant industry has shown us that large-scale industrial change is possible and can be a counterargument to climate change deniers and those who posit economic collapse due to green policies. Restaurants have shown that standing for something like sustainability and community can boost their brand and be good for business.
The restaurant industry is, as we have seen in the last year, also a fragile eco-system, subject to the crippling effects of economic factors like a pandemic. With so many restaurants doing so much to do business responsibly and sustainably, they deserve customers’ support now more than ever.