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Sustainability for restaurants

From Omar Shihab – Restauranteur, Chief Sustainability Officer – BOCA, Middle East F&B Power 50, Sustainability Champion of the Year Gault & Millau 2022


What is sustainability?

The concept of sustainability is as old as humanity. It was born from our desire to continue to exist for a very long time. The word sustainability is derived from Latin, sus meaning up and tenere which is to hold. Today and according to the 1987 Brundtland report (World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987) the definition is clearer: Sustainability or Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Why is sustainability important?

Our world’s population has been growing exponentially: 3.7 billion in 1970 -> 8.0 billion in November 2022. *United Nations World Population Report, 2022

Our world’s population consumption spending increased from about US$ 2.23 trillion in 1970 to US$ 62.03 trillion in 2020. * World Bank national accounts data, and OECD National Accounts data files.

We need to continue to consume in to survive, grow and prosper, but we need to do so in a way that is managed with a lot more care and sensitivity. The planet’s resources are after all, finite.


What’s the problem with CO2?

Carbon and carbon dioxide (CO2) are everywhere and in everything. It is found in people, plants, animals, water, the atmosphere, and is trapped in soil and rocks where it can remain for millions of years. CO2 is mobile and constantly changing its form. On Earth, CO2 is constantly being released (naturally and through the burning of fossil fuels) and sequestered (through the respiration of plants or dissolved in the ocean).

The Earth’s climate is controlled by the Earth’s energy balance, which is the movement of energy in and out of the Earth system. Energy flows from the sun to the earth and flows back out when it is radiated into space.

The atmosphere is made up of various gases, some of which, when present in large quantities, can cause the greenhouse effect: that is, the prevention of back radiation from the Earth. Of the four major greenhouse gases (water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, and ozone), CO2 is the one that outlasts them all.

Thus, if there is an imbalance in CO2 exchange (an excess of release, a lack of sequestration), the Earth’s climate and energy supply can become unbalanced and remain out of balance for a long time. This imbalance, either an increase in the rate of energy supply or a decrease in the rate of removal, would warm the climate.

What’s our role? A case for hospitality in the fight against climate change

So why do we (restauranteurs, chefs and food and beverage operators and professionals) deserve a seat at the table when it comes to discussing topics of climate change and sustainability.

Food – the way it is grown and transported, and the way it is disposed of – accounts for more than a 1/3 of global greenhouse emissions.

A third of the world’s food supply is never eaten, with food waste contributing 10% of global emissions.

Tourism and hospitality provided the equivalent of 10% of the world’s GDP employing one in 10 people 60% of who are women. This is the livelihoods of millions of people, helping lift them out of poverty, and is an integral part of achieving many of the interlocked sustainability development goals.

Economically and socially, restaurants represent a large part of the food system, in some places even a larger part than agriculture, retail and logistics.

Not only does that means that we have the greatest responsibility, but also the opportunity to make the biggest impact.

Sustainability in restaurants

Sustainability has environmental, social and commercial objectives. It also involves a combination of disciplines ranging from biology, environment, social sciences, and business.

Sustainability within restaurants is no different and will involve observing a restaurants internal operation and internal interactions as well as its physical existence and external connections.

Sustainability within restaurants involves what we should be mastering: an accurate understanding of our business’s operations and impact that it has through the value chain.