A carbon footprint is the sum of all the greenhouse gases (like carbon dioxide) we individually produce through the course of our daily lives. Food is a major factor in determining your restaurant’s carbon footprint.
Here’s some tips to help you lower your impact:

1. Find out where your food comes from. While estimates vary depending on your locale, the food that ends up on your customers’ plates can travel great distances to get there — with an accompanying carbon footprint in fuel used to transport it. If you don’t know, ask your suppliers from where they source their produce. A farm across the state? Across the country? If possible, find a supplier that buys from local farmers. You may be able get in touch with a local farm yourself to see if they can supply your restaurant directly, which could save you money as well. Farmers markets are another great place to get local produce. Your food items will be fresher and tastier. In addition, you will be supporting local farms, which may engender higher customer loyalty and satisfaction among your diners. Find nearby farms and farmers markets at Local Harvest or Farm Fresh

2. Try a seasonal menu. Produce that is in season and grown in your area should always be your first choice whenever possible. Out-of-season foods grown in hothouses and greenhouses heated by nonrenewable energy sources may be even worse for your footprint than produce grown farther away and trucked in. Of course, certain staples aren’t going to be available year-round, so you will have to source them from another area. However, if the majority of your dishes are made with in-season produce, then foods won’t have to be transported such long distances. Your establishment’s food will taste better because it will be fresher (since it is grown locally) and it’s in season. There is a growing market for restaurants that serve fresh, seasonal food, so you may attract new business with a more seasonal menu. It also gives your chefs opportunities for creativity and engagement when they are able to change the menu items to incorporate food that is in season every few months. The menu doesn’t have to change entirely, just the seasonal produce that is incorporated into each dish. Like Greens Restaurant in San Francisco, your menu could have staple dishes in which the produce is rotated for each season. The heirloom tomato and basil pizza of the summer menu becomes a potato and pesto pizza in the fall, for example. A rotating menu will keep people coming back to try new dishes. Customer outreach may be possible each season: stake out a booth at your farmers market and bring food samples to get people excited about the upcoming season’s menu. Find out what is in season and when in you area at Sustainable Table or CUESA

3.Cut back on meat and dairy. These are the food items that have the highest emissions, so decreasing the meat and dairy on your menu will make your food carbon footprint smaller. Offering more vegetarian and animal-free dishes may also bring in new customers to your restaurant. Health- and environment-conscious consumers are growing in number and buying power, so while the majority of your customers may not be completely vegetarian, having a more diverse menu will bring in more business. These articles from New Scientist and Will Brownsberger further explain why meat and dairy contribute to a higher food carbon footprint.

4.Avoid waste as much as possible. It takes lots of energy and greenhouse gas emissions to get food to your restaurant, so encourage your staff to be aware of waste. This will not only reduce your restaurant’s food carbon footprint, but it will also cut back the costs that come with wasted food. Some restaurants like One World Cafe are employing a no-waste menu by changing their menu daily to use up leftovers. Check these tips to minimize food waste in your restaurant and further decrease your food carbon footprint.

For further information, this impact calculator will help you determine your restaurant’s approximate food footprint.

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About The Author

Scott Cooney

Scott Cooney (twitter: scottcooney) is an adjunct professor of Sustainability in the MBA program at the University of Hawai'i, green business startup coach, author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill), and developer of the sustainability board game GBO Hawai'i. Scott has started, grown and sold two mission-driven businesses, failed miserably at a third, and is currently in his fourth. Scott's current company has three divisions: a sustainability blog network that includes the world's biggest clean energy website and reached over 5 million readers in December 2013 alone; Pono Home, a turnkey and franchiseable green home consulting service that won entrance into the clean tech incubator known as Energy Excelerator; and Cost of Solar, a solar lead generation service to connect interested homeowners and solar contractors. In his spare time, Scott surfs, plays ultimate frisbee and enjoys a good, long bike ride. Find Scott on

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