Sustainable Restaurant Association serves up menu of three key areas - plastics, food waste, and meat consumption - for hospitality and food service sector to tackle
UK food service companies must turbocharge their efforts to tackle climate change by "acting decisively now" to reduce meat consumption, tackle single-use plastics, and curb food waste, the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) has today warned.
A new report by the member organisation identifies "pockets of progress" on key sustainability issues within the UK hospitality, restaurant, and food service industry, but warns the pace of change is "nowhere near fast nor widespread enough".
Studies have shown food waste and livestock farming account for more than 20 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, but the food supply chain still waste one million tonnes of food each year and carbon intensive meats still dominate western menus.
The report calculates that if the UK food service sector reduced food waste by a quarter it could cut its carbon emissions by just under a million tonnes a year - a move which would also cut costs for companies operating in a highly competitive, often low margin environment.
The report also calls on the sector to take action on reducing the amount of meat offered on menus, as well as its use of single-use plastics and packaging.
The SRA said many of the chefs and business leaders interviewed for the report indicated they were reluctant to dictate change within their organisations, but it argued "the time has come for a more proactive approach", highlighting the UK's placing of 24 out of 34 countries ranked in the global sustainability league table.
Andrew Stephen, chief executive of the SRA, which counts more than 7,500 food service sites in the UK as members, emphasised the "huge" scale and urgency of environmental issues facing the sector.
"We need to challenge what we call normal, or good enough in hospitality in the UK," he said. "While the industry is taking lots of small steps, they aren't keeping pace with the scope of what is needed. It is no longer sufficient simply to talk about being a sustainable business without targeting bigger change on the biggest issues."
The report reviews the work food service operators have undertaken over the past year and sets out three key goals - tackling plastics, food waste and meat consumption - for the industry for 2019 and beyond.
It found that while many businesses have ditched plastic straws over the past year, as many as a third of SRA members continue to offer takeaway packaging that is not recyclable, reusable or compostable.
Moreover, the report argues simply adding a single additional salad or vegetarian option to a menu is insufficient for restaurants looking to affect serious environmental change, and highlights how wider changes to meet growing demand for vegetarian, vegan, and low impact options can deliver commercial gains. For example, the report points to firms such as Zizzi and Wagamama which have both seen an uplift in sales from investing "significantly in making changes to the balance of their menus".
The SRA is therefore calling on the industry to make "accelerated, measurable and tangible" changes, reiterating its aims for the sector to cut today's food-related greenhouse gas emissions by 25 per cent by 2030 and food waste by 25 per cent by 2025.
Stephen said taking action on plastics, food waste, and meat could deliver positive change across the sector that could influence millions of customers.
"If everyone matched the performance of the best operators in these areas, then collectively we would achieve huge gains," he added. "The whole sector needs to act now, because if we don't fix food, we can't fix climate change. It's time to seize the opportunity to embrace meaningful change towards a more restorative model, capturing customers' desire for more sustainable menus, growing pressure from investors to see the businesses they have a stake in tackling the big issues and the environmental imperative to avoid climate catastrophe."
The restaurant sector is almost uniquely influential, sitting at the nexus of food supply chains, entertainment, and culture. It has huge potential to either accelerate the trend towards more sustainable diets and agricultural practices or act as a drag on progress. The hope is that the UK's chefs can start to cook up some of the answers to our shared environmental crisis - and boost their businesses in the process.
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