Creating a sustainable future within the hospitality sector

There is an increasing need for businesses in the hospitality industry to foster sustainable initiatives and identify practical solutions to improve their environmental impact. In fact, two-thirds (67%) of UK consumers recently stated they would boycott brands that lacked an ethical conscience.

At the same time, the food and hospitality sector is currently experiencing a multitude of challenges, including rising business rates, the fallout of Brexit and staff shortages, to name a few. Some of these, along with cost, have been cited by 40% of businesses as potential barriers to sustainability.

As part of independent research we recently conducted with hospitality professionals, which form the basis of our new report ‘Life is Better Filtered: The Planet Around You’, we discovered that while 85% of hospitality businesses would consider themselves sustainable, almost half don’t have specific corporate social responsibility (CSR) targets in place.

Easy-to-implement ideas

Despite the low rate of specific targets, we also discovered there is much to applaud. A current focus for eight in 10 organisations is reducing waste levels. Hospitality operators are currently making steps to improve their green credentials in other ways too, including six out of 10 businesses aiming to ban plastic straws and over half wanting to work with suppliers whose products are 100% recycled. In fact, there are a number of easy-to-implement sustainable practices operators can put into practice to improve their environmental impact and set measurable and realistic targets.

Quick wins, such as aligning with sustainable suppliers, will help support CSR objectives and make long-term improvements. For example, here at BRITA we have achieved zero waste to landfill, with a designated “green team” and waste facilities on site; all of these achievements can reflect positively on the businesses that we work with.

Before working with a new supplier or investing in equipment, it is recommended businesses review their sustainability policies and ensure they align with their own CSR targets. Many businesses have also found success with putting their own sustainability scoring system in place, to ensure all their suppliers meet a certain level of environmental requirements.

Adopting strong sustainability credentials can also be used positively to address challenges such as staff shortages; research shows two-thirds of millennials would refuse a job if a potential employer failed to have robust CSR practices in place.

The war on single-use plastic

It is positive to see how committed the hospitality sector is to becoming more sustainable. Our research shows 70% of hospitality businesses are planning to reduce the use of single-use plastics and a very tangible way of doing this is the third of businesses that are taking steps to install filtered water systems instead of serving water in single-use plastic bottles. The latter makes perfect business sense too; 64% of consumers would be more likely to return to an establishment for future purchases if they could refill their water bottle. In addition, two thirds said they would choose a business that offered free refills over a competitor.

Government policy

Recent government announcements may soon see every day single-use plastic items, such as disposable coffee cups and takeaway boxes, hit with charges akin to the 5p levy on plastic bags. While the industry is supportive of such a single-use plastic tax, three quarters of businesses believe it does not go far enough.

Despite this, to be prepared ahead of changes to legislation, a number of operators are looking at alternative, more sustainable options when it comes to serving / selling water and soft drinks in single-use plastic bottles.

Working together

While many hospitality businesses are making fantastic steps forward towards improving their environmental impact, it’s clear there is a need for more support in their journey. Some 40% of the businesses we spoke to want more information and advice to help them become more sustainable. In particular, one third of businesses would like insights into what other businesses in the sector are doing. Examples of best practice within the hospitality industry should be showcased so businesses can learn from each other. Environmental consultants such as The Planet Mark and the Sustainable Restaurant Association, as well as industry events, are useful resources to seek best practice examples. The recent UK Plastics Pact, launched by WRAP, is aimed at bringing businesses together from across the entire plastics value chain to tackle the scourge of plastic waste. Such initiatives should elicit further examples of best practice and support the hospitality industry.

Looking to the future

Supporting hospitality businesses to implement simple, cost-effective measures in their sustainability drive is more essential than ever. In particular, the battle to reduce single-use plastic is of paramount importance for both businesses and consumers. By eliminating the need for customers to purchase unsustainable pre-bottled water or single-use plastic cups, is one of the most effective steps businesses can take to significantly reduce their impact on the environment and together, the catering sector can continue to tackle sustainability issues head on.

By Steve Buckmaster, director of sales at BRITA Professional

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