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Getting Started

You’ve decided to embrace the concept of sustainability. Now where do you go from here? Start with a plan. You didn’t open your restaurant without one, and you didn't start serving without a menu. Don't stumble blindly into sustainability. Use these five steps as a start.

  • Meet and network with the players in your local community.
  • Do a self-assessment.
  • Set goals.
  • Identify barriers.
  • Assign tactics.

Step 1: Do your research

Every restaurant is a local institution. Even large chain restaurants must cater to local customer tastes and interests. Your environmental efforts are no different. Learn what’s going on in your community. Find out what local groups are doing on sustainability:

  • Meet with a local university or college.
  • Network through your state and local restaurant associations.
  • Research local “green” organizations.
  • A basic Web search will go a long way!
  • Contact local government agencies.
  • Ask who is tasked with sustainability or recycling.
  • Reach out to local vendors.
  • Use this printable worksheet (PDF) to outline action items with local organizations.

In sidebar: Questions to ask

  • Do you offer sustainability education and assistance for local businesses?
  • To get assistance, does my business need to make a certain commitment?
  • How can we work with your organization and promote our efforts to our customers?

Step 2: Introspection

You’ve collected ideas and contacts. Now it’s time to look inside. How can you incorporate environmental efforts into your daily work?

Chris Koetke, dean of Kendall College’s School of Culinary Arts in Chicago, explains how incorporating a few sustainably-driven words in your mission statement can make a world of difference.

  • Review your business plan and mission statement. Incorporate environmental efforts into the language.
  • Review your current environmental practices. Ask how this compares with where you want to be. Are you tracking waste, water and energy bills? This can help you identify low-hanging fruit and decide where to start.
  • Where do you stand compared with other restaurants? Benchmark against similar operations if you can. Conduct a meeting with employees to brainstorm ideas.
  • Walk around your store. Assess the workspace and equipment. Conduct a waste audit. Ask your utility company if they do energy audits; many offer these for free. If not, check out this do-it-yourself energy audit.
  • Contact your lighting manufacturer. Arrange for a lighting audit from one of their independent distributors.

Step 3: Find your story and prepare to implement!

Decide what practices make sense to implement based on your corporate goals, your business environment and local circumstances. Think about what you can achieve if you start small and local.

Use this to craft your “sustainability story.” Your story can change over time as you grow and develop your business.

The following questions can help you craft a plan for success:

  • Grow an organic, honest sustainability story you can share with confidence
  • Pilot projects: this is a great way to start something new
  • Employees are your champions. How will you educate and train them to tell your sustainability story?
  • Who will you contact for networking? Who will initiate contact and when?
  • How will you communicate with any key stakeholders across your community? Who will handle that communication and how often?

Chris Koetke, dean of Kendall College’s School of Culinary Arts in Chicago, offers tips on how launching a green team can be empowering and motivate your staff.

Step 4: Set short- and long-term goals

You can’t manage what you don't measure. Outline a series of small goals that you can achieve. Make sure these are measurable.

Start small. Even one or two small changes can make a big impact. Develop a short plan for achieving your goals. Remember, stick to your plan. You may need to revise the plan, but don’t waver from it.

Use this printable worksheet to outline your goals and share with your staff. Example: Decide to focus on water efficiency for the first 12 months. Fix leaks, track your water bills, train employees.

Gale Gand, executive pastry chef at Chicago’sTRU restauarant, shares secrets on tracking water and energy use in your restaurant

Things to think about: How will you measure success? Who is responsible for tracking? How frequently will this be done?

Step 5: Tactical efforts (How are you going to do it?)

How are you going to achieve your goals? What specific steps will you and your staff take, and when?

Again, keep it small, achievable and focused. Don’t diverge from your story and mission statement.

Use document 3 (below) to build an action plan.

Mapping out an action plan takes time and effort, but it’s worth it. A measurable action plan –that involves your employees, outlines a strategy for implementation, and tells a personal story -- can’t be undervalued.

This lets you communicate your environmental story to your customers. You can then leverage their passion to build on your efforts.

The National Restaurant Association thanks HMSHost for inspiring the five-step process.