Question: With so many ways to “green” my restaurant, I feel like I have to ask: Is it really worth the hassle?

Answer: Yes! Yes! Yes! Creating a “green” brand will benefit your restaurant in so many ways. Most importantly however, it can (and will) help you acquire new customers while reducing costs, ensuring that profits and energy-savings both increase – and fast. Here’s a great article written by our partners over at LEAF explaining why investing in your restaurant’s sustainable image is worth every penny.

The move towards energy-efficiency and sustainable sourcing

Recently, some restaurants have joined the sustainability movement and adopted practices which reduce waste and are more energy efficient. When it comes to going green, they have implemented initiatives such as recycling programs, composting, using 100 percent post consumer waste paper napkins, offering more vegetarian options or serving only organic coffee or local wine and beer. Some chain restaurants throughout Canada and the U.S. now compost within their stores. With a large chain that crosses many borders this is a significant undertaking. Typically restaurant chains of this size annually dump millions of pounds/ kilograms of waste into our landfills. Earls and Joey’s restaurants estimate that in 2011 they will keep upwards of 2.5 million pounds of waste (organics and recyclables) from B.C., Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, and U.S landfills.

The so-called green consumers, those that feel it is good for restaurants to protect the environment, may be willing to pay more to dine at green restaurants. These consumers are interested in the sustainability of our food systems. Terms such as “carbon footprint” have all become popular expressions of the sustainability movement. Local farmers markets, which allow consumers to buy directly from food producers, are also linked to the sustainability concept. There are 508 Farmers Markets across Canada, providing community shopping experiences and local products. Although not used by the majority of national shoppers, these markets attracted 28 million shoppers in 2008.

More and more consumers are demanding proof that the food system operates in a sustainable manner. Sustainable fishing standards are currently being adopted by national grocery chains in Canada. Loblaw Companies has partnered with the Marine Stewardship Council, an international certification and labeling program, to establish a sustainable procurement practice by 2013. This practice will focus on responsible sourcing in every seafood category and categories that contain seafood (Loblaws, 2009). (Agriculture and Food – Canada Market Analyis Report 2010.)

Eight out of 10 U.S. consumers are willing to pay more to eat at restaurants which are environmentally friendly

With customers wanting environmentally friendly restaurants combined with a willingness to pay for it, eating establishments could take steps to market themselves as green to attract this growing market segment. An Ohio State University study surveyed 455 customers of five independent casual dining restaurants in Columbus. Customers were asked a variety of questions about their perceptions of so-called “green” restaurants. The results showed that restaurant customers are intrigued by the possibility of environmentally friendly restaurants.

Findings included: Eight out of 10 U.S. consumers are willing to pay more to eat at restaurants which are environmentally friendly. 

Approximately 65 percent of participants responded that they would be willing to pay up to 10 percent more to dine at green restaurants, with 20 percent willing to pay even more.Only 15 percent indicated they would not be willing to pay more to eat at an environmentally friendly restaurant. About 70 percent said it is good for restaurants to protect the environment, and 48 percent said dining at green restaurants will be healthier. Seven out of 10 participants in the survey were most concerned with restaurants that took actions to protect the environment, such as reducing energy usage and waste and using biodegradable or recycled products. After environmental action, the second most important green practice to diners was the use of organic products and serving locally grown food.

Least important to diners was having restaurants donate some of their profits to environmental projects. There were some age and gender differences in how diners viewed green practices at restaurants. Results revealed women and those less than age 35 were more likely than others to believe dining at green restaurants would be healthier. Those under age 35 were more likely than older people to say it was important for restaurants to use organic foods and to pay fees to reduce their ecological footprints. Women were much more likely than men to say it was important for restaurants to donate to environmental projects.
 Participants had one thing in common; they all agreed that the quality of food was most important for them. They were not willing to compromise quality to eat at a green restaurant. Some survey participants also expressed confusion about which restaurants in the area were truly “green”. Restaurants that engage in green practices should market themselves as environmentally friendly and use that fact as a competitive edge. The responses clearly indicated that if people knew which restaurants were green, they would consider visiting them. Restaurants that are truly green should look to get certified by third-party non-profit organizations such as LEAF (Leaders in Environmentally Accountable Foodservice) to show customers of their commitment and avoid greenwashing.

Questions about creating a “green” image at your restaurant? Leave them below! Want to learn more about energy-efficiency equipment and cost-saving suggestions? Try our FREE energy audit tool and get personalized recommendations for your business, and visit our rebates and incentives page to start saving, now.

image credit: cathy x.