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3 big reasons to practice sustainability

December 18, 2014

By Chris Koetke

Practicing sustainability has its challenges, but the rewards can be great financially and environmentally.

It’s a fact that restaurateurs are constantly busy – managing their businesses and ensuring that the customers are satisfied. Incorporating sustainability into the mix is just one more thing to do. But the bottom line is it is good for business.

Here are three reasons why:

  1. You really can save money. If you’re conserving water or energy, there are big money savings to be had, sometimes almost immediately. It’s true that sustainability sometimes costs more up front, but in the long run you win financially. For example, switching to LED lighting is more expensive, but it uses so little energy you end up saving on utilities. And because it lasts so long, you don’t have to store light bulbs or get your people to climb on ladders to replace them all the time. That saves on labor.
     
  2. It amps up the value of your marketing. People often forget to let others know about their sustainability efforts. If you’re making these changes, let your customers know! The data is clear: consumers, especially millennials and Gen Z diners, are looking to patronize businesses that practice sustainability. If you want to appeal to this younger set, tell them what you’re doing. There’s no shame in it; marketing your sustainable practices doesn’t lessen the altruistic nature. After all, we’re not talking about philanthropy; it’s business. There’s nothing wrong with doing the right thing and letting people know you’re doing it. But one thing to note: Never, especially on your website, say you’re 100-percent sustainable because no one really is. You can always be better.
     
  3. It’s all about the food. Searching out local ingredients and featuring them on your menu can be profitable. When looking to differentiate yourself from competitors, the food you serve can be a big factor. I recently stopped at a farm in Michigan, and saw a selection of winter squash – maybe 30 different kinds   that could have been used to make something unusual, and upsold. Local items can often be used as differentiators to attract customers. You’re also supporting and developing relationships with local farmers. When that happens, you can have conversations about how food is grown or raised and that is a positive thing.

So what’s the moral of this story? Simply, you sometimes have to step outside of your daily routine and look at what’s around you. It often makes good business sense.

Chris Koetke is vice president of the School of Culinary Arts at Kendall College. He joined the School of Culinary Arts in 1998, serving first as a culinary instructor and later as associate dean, dean and executive director. In 2009, the school was named as an official educational partner of the Conserve program.