Operators can work with suppliers to meet goals, focus restaurants around sustainability ideas, and increase social responsibility

Restaurant operators have long known that the experience they provide for their customers extends beyond the food itself to include qualities like cleanliness and service.

Now, operators can add to those experiential elements -- the need to show progress around issues such as sustainability and diversity. Restaurant sustainability and eco-friendly ideas and efforts, often grouped together as ESG—short for environmental, social and governance—have become increasingly important to consumers.

“Especially among Gen Z and millennials, when we ask people what is important in their purchasing decisions, values come up. Environmental comes up. Social responsibility comes up. DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion] comes up,” says Tamara Charm, partner in the Boston office of consulting firm McKinsey & Company, in a recent podcast

This also holds true, but to a lesser degree, for older consumers, she says.

A recent McKinsey Consumer Pulse survey found that more than two-thirds of younger respondents said at least one aspect of ESG is very important to them when they look at which companies and brands to patronize. These consumers especially value transparency and the treatment of people, including employees, customers and others in their communities, the research found.

Restaurant operators are tackling ESG issues in several different ways, including taking steps to reduce waste, switching to more sustainable packaging and implementing new policies and practices that support DEI.

Working closely with suppliers, and ensuring that suppliers are also committed to ESG efforts, can help restaurant operators toward achieving their own ESG goals and implementing eco-friendly restaurant products.

Another sustainability idea for restaurants is to reach out to suppliers, for example, to explore packaging alternatives or delivery processes to find ways to reduce their carbon footprint, says Frank Klein, CEO and founder of consulting firm FK Restaurants

“Alternatively, restaurants can pair together with suppliers, who usually have larger bargaining power in the food chain, and see if they can piggyback on environmental or social causes that don't cross the line too far politically but can still benefit the core members of any organization’s value chain,” he says.

Seasonality and local sourcing

One way restaurants can incorporate ESG goals into their menu development and operate more sustainably is to focus on ingredient seasonality, Klein says. Seasonal and eco-friendly restaurant menu creation can provide some key benefits, including improved freshness, decreasing a restaurant’s carbon footprint by virtue of reduced delivery distance, and supporting local communities, “which are all components of ESG within the restaurant world,” he says.

“It's harder to produce a menu with a smaller eco-footprint, but totally possible,” Klein says.

Jessica Hussain, a partner in retail, franchise and hospitality for business-services firm Aprio, agrees that seasonality and local sourcing can help restaurants achieve their ESG goals. In a recent blog post, she also suggested that operators:

  • Look for ways to reduce waste, such as carefully managing inventory, finding new uses for fruit and vegetable trimmings, and working with local soup kitchens and shelters to donate surplus foods.
  • Embrace eco-friendly restaurant products, tools and practices, such as offering biodegradable or compostable tableware, using green cleaning products, and replacing paper menus with QR codes.
  • Prioritize DEI, which could involve rethinking hiring practices to focus on diversity and taking a closer look at parental leave policies. “It’s crucial to remember that DEI is more than a once-and-done endeavor,” says Hussain. “It starts from the top down and needs to be a strategic priority. It requires organizational reflection and open conversations with your team members, particularly people of color and women, to ensure you are creating an environment that is inclusive of everyone.”

Select the right suppliers

Restaurants should also select their food purveyors carefully, says Klein of FK Restaurants. In order to foster a sustainable and eco-friendly restaurant menu, they should look for companies that have experience in tackling ESG challenges in their own supply chains, and that have an ethos around ESG responsibility.

Suppliers such as Mondelēz International have embraced ESG as an important element of their corporate culture. The company recently published its 2021 Snacking Made Right report, which highlighted progress toward its ESG goals.

The company remains focused on leading in areas “where it can help deliver more positive impact,” the report says. Those include helping to build a thriving cocoa sector, reducing packaging waste and reducing its environmental footprint.

“The issues we are tackling are systemic, requiring supply chain and business transformation. That’s why our integrated approach is not only designed to tackle root causes, but also embedded into our business growth strategy,” says Christine Montenegro McGrath, senior vice president and chief global impact and sustainability officer, Mondelēz International. “We are committed to measuring our impact and investing in scalable solutions and innovation so we can drive lasting change.”

For more information about how Mondelēz can help fuel your restaurant’s sustainability and eco-friendly ideas, menu offerings, and products, visit Mondelēz Foodservice

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