By Ellen Hartman
“Do well by doing good,” a quote often credited to Benjamin Franklin, is such a simple concept – but it’s one that can make or break your business, especially when it comes to the environment.
Restaurant sustainability has been a hot topic for a number of years. As both business and consumers alike, we’ve become more aware of how our continued unsustainable consumption and waste threaten the stability of our eco-systems. And as foodservice accounts for over 4% of the U.S. gross domestic product, it’s clear that reducing the restaurant industry’s ecological footprint can affect real and lasting change.
Sure, restaurant customers demand delicious food, great service and fair prices – that likely won’t change. But according to a 2011 study conducted by the National Restaurant Association, they also want to patron establishments that do good by the environment. The industry survey found that 69 percent of consumers would prefer to dine in a restaurant serving food “grown or raised in an organic or environmentally-friendly way.”
This emerging trend in restaurant dining proves that guests want more than just a good meal – they want to feel as if they’ve done something to support an important cause. And a brand that is shows it truly cares about its community and the environment can attract new customers and strengthen existing brand loyalty.
The economic advantages of a sustainable business model are far reaching, and there is proof of this cause and effect beyond general statistics. Sometimes doing “good” really does directly and positively impact your bottom line – and in a big way.
Sustainability pioneer Chipotle, whose “Food with Integrity” tagline has made headlines, has worked to build a brand that embodies sustainable and humane food practices. The Mexican chain has become one of the most successful and beloved quick service brands in the U.S. – founded on the “doing good” notion. Newer concepts such as Sweetgreen, a salad chain that serves healthy, sustainable, and affordable offerings, has grown to 15 units in only five years because of their commitment to a sustainable, farm-to-table business model.
But sustainability needn’t be the sole founding principal of your restaurant. It’s never too late to activate a new program. Atlanta-based Tin Drum Asiacafé, for example, employs small sustainable practices throughout their operations. Together, these simple efforts can have a bigger-than-expected impact. For example, reflective interior surfaces in all new Tin Drum units maximize lighting – resulting in a four-year lighting life span average that reduces waste and energy consumption by 25%.
Developing a strong, strategic sustainability program is truly a “win-win” for everyone involved. The environment is spared from waste, pollution and exploitation. Customers feel good about supporting a brand that gives back. And the restaurant, itself, is positioned as an environmentally responsible organization – that just so happens to attract a larger, more loyal customer-base leading to improved sales and greater growth.
How, might you ask, does restaurant apply this insight? Here are seven steps to developing a strong sustainability program that will enable your brand to do better business by making a concerted impact on larger scale.
- Think strategically. Pinpoint the causes most relevant to their target market. What specifically does this target care about regarding the environment, and why?
- Hire an expert. Why not seek the expertise of someone who can help you implement eco-friendly tactics in a time and cost-effective manner. At cokesolutions.com, for example, The Coca-Cola Company offers a variety of resources to help operators drive eco-minded efficiencies and thus save green.
- Revise your mission. Be sure to include your new sustainability goals – and make that new mission a part of the brand. Don’t forget to be specific in terms of tactics and the consumer-relevant motivation behind them.
- Spread your messages. Speak to your sustainable objectives in your advertising and PR initiatives, train your staff and put your money where your mouth is.
- Get certified. The Green Restaurant Association, a national non-profit organization that provides a convenient and cost-effective way for restaurants to become more environmentally responsible, offers green certifications in a number of environmental categories.
- Be patient. Reaping the financial benefit of your efforts may come later than you hoped or expected, but sticking with your new practices will eventually lead to a more successful brand. And in the meantime? Focus on the gains within your personal conscious.
- Measure your success. According to survey by Cone Communications, “86% of consumers want companies to tell them more about results of CSR efforts, while 55% do not understand the impact of buying products from companies that claimed to be socially responsible.” This means you should develop a measurement tool that illustrates your “return on business, brand, and society” – a dashboard of sorts. In other words, turn your efforts into a credible business strategy that will allow consumers, potential franchisees and partners to perceive the true value.
Ellen Hartman is president and CEO of Hartman Public Relations, LLC, a full- service public relations agency specializing in the foodservice industry. Hartman and her team have experience working for full service brands such as Chili’s, Huddle House and Olive Garden, fast casual brands such as Cosi, and many QSR brands including Popeyes, Church’s, and Arby’s. An industry leader for more than 20 years, Hartman is a frequent speaker at industry events, is active in the Women’s Foodservice Forum and Les Dames d’Escoffier International and has served on the board of the Multi-Cultural Foodservice Hospitality Alliance.