Why more hotels are switching to sustainable food policies and how to create a policy of your own
The importance of sourcing sustainable food may sound like an out of date topic. Surely, everyone knows the impact of food miles and the do’s and don’ts of food sourcing when it comes to fish, meats and seasonal products?
Well even if they do, there are several reasons why it’s important to keep up to date. Firstly, the rules of sustainable food sourcing are constantly shifting. Only recently did the Marine Conservation Society remove mackerel and gurnard from the list of ‘sustainable’ fish, leaving many confused about what fish it is now safe to eat.
Secondly, sustainable sourcing is becoming an increasingly pressing issue for businesses and governments as the fear of food shortages and crops being ‘wiped out’ by extreme weather events become increasing realities. Businesses are increasingly turning to the government for help in consolidating a sustainable and resilient food system by introducing taxes on unsustainable food practices.
And thirdly, customer demand for sustainably sourced food has never been stronger. Trust in food sources is becoming increasingly linked to the notion of sustainable and local sourcing – customers want to know more and more details about where food is coming from, and from this make a judgement about its quality. Customers want real information – not the faux stories about some dining experience – but information that offers ‘food transparency’.
Consequently, sustainable sourcing is becoming main stream. A few weeks ago McDonalds in the US announced that it would become the first national restaurant chain to adopt the Marine Stewardship Council’s blue eco-label on its fish packaging. “World Wildlife Fund supports the MSC as the only credible standard for sustainable wild-caught seafood. McDonald’s decision to display the MSC eco-label on its seafood products gives consumers a way to contribute to the conservation of the world’s biodiversity,” said Bill Fox, vice president and managing director of fisheries at World Wildlife Fund. “It also demonstrates McDonald’s leadership in feeding a growing population while helping to maintain healthy fisheries.”
Sustainable food sourcing is also gaining a more prominent spot in the CSR policies of global hotel chains. A couple of weeks ago Hyatt announced the launch of “Food. Thoughtfully Sourced. Carefully Served,” a global philosophy focused on sourcing and providing food and beverage options that are good for Hyatt guests and associates, good for the planet and good for local communities.
Spotlight on Hyatt Hotels
Driven by insights and in-depth research, “Food. Thoughtfully Sourced. Carefully Served” is grounded in three pillar
The first pillar is focused on healthy people by offering portion control, balanced offerings and natural ingredients prepared with nutrient-preserving cooking techniques. Examples include gluten-free and vegetarian options, organic produce, natural meat without supplemental growth hormones or antibiotics, reduced sodium, reduced additives, beverages with all-natural sweeteners such as agave nectar, hormone-free milk and real fruit juice.
The second pillar is focused on a healthy planet by implementing sustainable practices that will improve the long-term health of people and the planet. Examples include sourcing sustainable seafood, naturally raised beef and pork, planting on-property gardens, recycling programs and new to-go containers and packaging.
The final pillar is intended to support healthy communities by sourcing from local suppliers as well as sharing knowledge and actively supporting farmers' markets and other community events. Examples include serving at least five local ingredients on menus, partnerships with schools and local community groups, empowering Hyatt associates through education, and sponsoring local culinary schools to participate in competitions.
Benefits to hotels
Besides from external pressure and it being ‘the right thing to do’, hotels that source their food sustainably are quick to recognise the tangible benefits.
Sourcing sustainably is vital to meet certain customer demands, and consequently can be used as an effective marketing campaign. At the start of the year the global 'What’s Hot' survey identified local sourcing as a key factor in the top 10 menu trends for 2013. Locally sourced meats and seafood, locally grown produce, sustainable seafood, environmental sustainability as a culinary theme and hyper-local sourcing all featured in the top 10. This is building on themes that emerged throughout 2012. Trend forecasters a year ago predicted the beginning of a ‘Celebrity Farmer’ era, on the back of more shoppers being interested in knowing where their foods are coming from and the people making them. For example, farmers markets increased by 17% in the UK in 2012.
However, there are also business benefits of sustainable sourcing:
- Reduced operating costs through bulk buying from local suppliers, demanding reduced packaging, buying seasonally, etc. If you grow your own produce, costs can be cut even more dramatically
- Improved quality of food and service from suppliers as hotels improve relationships with suppliers. They will also reduce the environmental and health risks, and avoid the negative publicity associated with purchasing “problem products”
- Better community relationships, increased customer loyalty, and improved morale and loyalty among staff. It is also an opportunity to demonstrate to stakeholders the importance placed on sustainability issues
In the UK the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) works directly with restaurants and hotels to improve their sustainability. We recently got in touch to find out why making restaurants more sustainable is so important and how they go about doing it.
Tom Tanner from the SRA explains, ‘There are three main reasons why helping restaurants become more sustainable is important. First up it’s what customers want – 70% of diners tell us they would prefer to eat in a sustainable restaurant, given the choice. Secondly, it’s in restaurants' interests to operate sustainably – by implementing straightforward behaviour changes the average restaurant can save up to £20,000, reducing their energy and water use and cutting their waste. Lastly, it’s the right thing to do. As resources become scarcer and food security becomes more of an issue, it will be the only way to operate.’
‘The SRA helps restaurants across all areas of the business, whether it’s finding a new chicken supplier, carrying out a food waste audit, training staff or enabling them to communicate better what they are doing.’
‘Hotels make up an important part of the SRA membership. The 2013 Sustainable Restaurant Awards saw three hotel winners and like the organisation as a whole, these hotels were diverse in style and location. Dixcart Bay Hotel, on the island of Sark, talks in terms of food metres rather than miles and faces very different challenges to Marriott Hotels International, with 58 sites across the UK, which won the award for Sustainable Large Restaurant Group of the Year. The third winner at the awards was The Savoy – for the Best Food Waste Strategy – proving that luxury is no barrier to sustainability.’
Marriott Hotels International, the first large hotel group to receive a Three Star rating from the SRA, delivered across the board, with its ‘Future Fish' programme to promote responsible sourcing of fish, its work with schools teaching children cooking skills and educating them about food provenance, and using recycled or reclaimed items for more than half of its furniture and fittings.
In the US, the Green Restaurant Association does similar work by certifying green restaurants, offering consultancy to improve sustainable standards and providing an endorsement programme for environmental products in the restaurant industry. The Association has about 260 certified restaurants across the US.
Spotlight on Zetter Townhouse
The Zetter Group have a real passion for all things sustainable; focusing on ensuring our business footprint is as minimal as possible and ensuring guest comfort at the same time. With our sustainable focus we are really happy to incorporate the SRA within our award-winning restaurant, Bistrot Bruno Loubet. In 2012 the Bistrot was awarded three gold stars by the SRA – the maximum possible – due to the variety of things we do to ensure we are a sustainable business, a great employer and contribute to the community around us. To take the SRA’s knowledge, support and guidance and create achievable targets for the restaurant has really driven sustainability forwards not only in the restaurant but also throughout both Hotels.
The SRA focuses you on specific topics, creating targets to build a working environmental plan. Within the hotels we can take these topics and expand them to create an environmental plan which includes much more than just our Food and Drink departments. It is so important to have a plan in place as it guides the Green Team throughout the year and also allows you to celebrate achievements when targets have been reached. Year after year the plan can be expanded to ensure continuous development happens. The SRA highlighted recently that guests are becoming more interested in the sustainability of a restaurant. This is echoed too with hotels and therefore a main topic on our environmental plan this year.
Getting started: A quick guide
Picking sustainable suppliers:
Find out where the produce is coming from, how far it has traveled, etc—keep asking these questions and the supplier should begin to change their sourcing to suit your requirements. You may wish to supplement suppliers, or join with other businesses in the area to bulk buy from sustainable businesses, which also keeps costs down.
This will take lots of organisation; spreadsheets to chart orders and deliveries are imperative. Co-ordinating with other businesses may take time to get used to—chefs are accustomed to ordering what they want, when they want, not waiting till the van comes round from the “group” supplier.
Some produce, including exotic fruit or spices, may have to be imported from abroad. Find out about the growers and producers you’re buying from. Ask how the ingredient was produced, how it’s packaged, how far it has traveled, how was it transported, and then work out if you should replace it with a local product.
Insisting that suppliers are more transparent will help to eliminate or reduce foods that are grown in an unsustainable way and build relationships with the right sellers. Buying Fairtrade-certified products imported from poorer countries is a more ethical option as it benefits disadvantaged producers. The Soil Association, which certifies much of the UK’s organic food, requires foreign farmers to prove they provide employment at fair pay and that they are endeavouring to reduce transport by air.
Calculating food carbon:
Whilst some hotels opt for the softer approach of simply stating the mile radius that food and beverages come from, others like a more exact carbon science. International vegetarian restaurant chain Otarian has led the way when it comes to integrating food carbon calculations with menus and service. The chain allows customers build up credit for free dishes as a reward for saving carbon on a Carbon Karma card. Otarian uses international standards such as PAS2050 to carbon footprint its entire menu, and was chosen to road test the new World Resources Institute’s Greenhouse Gas Protocol product standard, which measures the emissions from all parts of a product’s life cycle, including growing, harvesting, processing of ingredients, transport, packaging and waste disposal.
Going even further down the supply chain, The Cool Farm Institute, made up of Unilever, PepsiCo, Marks & Spencer, Tesco, Yara, Heineken and Fertilizers Europe, recently selected Best Foot Forward and CLM as software partners to build the Cool Farm Tool into a free online carbon calculator for farmers and suppliers. The Cool Farm Tool (CFT) is an industry-supported calculator designed to help growers measure and understand the carbon footprint of their produce and livestock. The current spreadsheet Cool Farm Tool is free for growers to download and use, with the Institute’s goal to help as many farmers as possible to take actions to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions from their activities. For more information see www.coolfarmtool.org 
Grow your own:
Hotel kitchens can reduce food miles to zero and dramatically reduce operating costs by growing their own fruit, vegetables and herbs. The pioneer in kitchen gardens is Raymond Blanc, whose two-Michelin-starred restaurant at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, part of Orient-Express Hotels, in Oxfordshire, UK, is supplied by a two-acre patch in the grounds, which produces more than 90 types of vegetable and 70 varieties of herb.
Costa Rica’s Finca Rosa Blanca hotel has its own organic coffee plantation, and offers guests lessons in planting, picking, processing, roasting and tasting. Not only that, but it grows indigenous fruits and vegetables, such as pejibaye, yucca and narubib, which are presented to guests in their raw form first and then incorporated into dinner.
Restaurants and hotels that lack the land to grow produce to fuel a restaurant kitchen have increasingly been looking to other spaces, such as rooftops. The Fairmont Dallas has its own organic rooftop herb garden; and chefs at the Fairmont Royal York in Toronto grow more than 60 varieties of herbs, fruit, vegetables and edible blossoms in the rooftop garden—they even keep bees. Executive Chef Simon Dolinky has set up a hydroponic growing operation on top of the 19-storey Hotel Palomar Los Angeles-Westwood.
The soil-free system includes grow lights, which switch on when the sun goes down, providing year-round summer growing. He says it would not be practical or even possible to grow everything on the roof, so he concentrates on house-grown herbs and micro-greens and supplements the menu with locally grown organic produce.
As a result of growing concern about Colony Collapse Disorder in North American honeybees, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts has installed beehives in the rooftop gardens of a number of hotels in North America, as well as the Fairmont Yangcheng Lake in China and Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club.
Spotlight on Whitbread's Sustainable Sourcing Policy
Vision: Working together with our suppliers we reduce our shared social and environmental impacts to provide our customers with goods and services we all trust
- Our Buyers follow a Responsible Sourcing Policy which is embedded in our Procurement Process
- Where our suppliers do not meet our standards we work with them to make improvements to benefit all stakeholders
- In areas of high risk sourcing we work with established organisations to improve the long-term sustainability of the products we source
- Products from High Risk Countries with a high environmental impact have sourcing strategies which require continuous improvement
- Where we know products have an adverse impact on the environment or health we will progressively work to define sustainability standards and meet these e.g. cotton and timber
- Animal welfare is paramount and will be regularly reviewed and updated to reflect best practice
- As a major user of Beef products, we will work without suppliers to reduce the environmental impact of Beef and will identify and measure ways in which we can source beef in a more sustainable way
- We will expand our range of certified products to include tea, sugar, caoa and fish
- We will seek to remove palm oil from our products or where this is not possible to use only certified sources
- Our suppliers understand our Carbon Reduction programme and identify ways in which they can measure and deliver reduction targets
- We work with our suppliers to reduce water usage in manufacturing our products
- Where there is a risk of Deforestation in the manufacture of our products we will understand the risk and work with our suppliers or change our sourcing policies to use alternative products
- We understand the longer term consequences of our business operations and have steps in place to manage our impact including waste reduction
Hints and tips for hotels:
- Ascertain whether they are tied into any long-term supply contracts before sourcing new suppliers.
- Calculate expenditure on food and drink, and where (i.e. country of origin) they are spending it. This is the best indicator to measure progress on sustainability, because it highlights how much is being spent with local producers
- Find out what sustainable producers are available locally. UK restaurants have an excellent source in Sustainweb, which offers a database of suppliers. There are also regional food groups, such as Taste of Kent and Taste of Suffolk, which will put restaurants in touch with small producers. International sources include Slow Food, the movement that started in Italy to promote locally-produced food, Satavic Farming (India), MercaTrade (Latin America), Australia’s ECO-Buy (its site offers a Sustainable Procurement Assessment Tool, http://assessment.ecobuy.org.au/ ), the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, Go Organic (South Africa) and Local Harvest (US)
- Chicken and eggs should always be organic, free-range and accredited by bodies such as the RSPCA Freedom Foods in the UK, Free Range Farmers Association Inc in Australia, or Humane in the US
- All tea, coffee, sugar, chocolate, dried fruits and nuts should be Fairtrade-certified
- Anything on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species www.iucn.org , which is a comprehensive assessment of the conservation status of plant and animal species, is off limits; all fish and seafood should be certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council. Threatened fish species that should be avoided at all costs include bluefin tuna. Other food that is fast disappearing from menus is foie gras; the force-feeding of geese or duck is considered to be cruel
- Avoid air-freighted foods. By doing so, restaurants and their guests may discover a new passion for those foods that can only be enjoyed at certain times of the year
- Think about cutting down on high carbon meat products. The methane emitted by cattle and sheep is a potent greenhouse gas and many experts believe a major contributor to climate change
- Aim for most fruit and vegetable to be seasonal, locally grown and organic. If imported, it should be Fairtrade-certified
- Wines should be organic or biodynamic
- Water should not be bottled unless it is tap or filtered water in refillable bottles
The Sustainable Food Policy Guide (www.SustainableFoodPolicy.org ) is a useful tool.
Spotlight on Macdonald hotels and resorts
At Macdonald Hotels & Resorts, the UK’s largest privately owned hotel group, responsible food sourcing is a key element of the procurement strategy. All suppliers are assessed by an external auditor before trading while a policy of central sourcing ensures control and consistency of quality.
Key suppliers include Scotbeef with its own livestock liaison team, responsible for Inspecting Farms to Animal Welfare and Environment Codes of Practice. Pork is freedom food accredited and from free range sources including Anna’s Happy Trotters Farm.
Fish is sourced from respected George Campbell and Sons and reflects Macdonald Hotels’ firm commitment to support sustainable fisheries management – safeguarding future fish stocks. George Campbell avoid species intrinsically vulnerable to exploitation, or dependent upon habitats particularly vulnerable to damage by fishing.
Ethical trading always forms part of Macdonald Hotels & Resorts supplier selection process. The group works with suppliers who can prove and give evidence of trading fairly and can ensure that everyone throughout their supply chain is treated with honesty, fairness and respect.
Proud of serving guests only the finest and freshest produce, the hotel group seeks evidence of Global Gap accreditation and also aims to source from the likes of Fairtrade, Rainforest Accredited and Freedom Food.
The main programmes for certified food goods include:
Australia Certified Organic
CST (Costa Rica’s Certificate for Sustainable Tourism)
The Green Key (originated in Denmark, now international)
The Green Restaurant Association (US)
Green Seal (for accredited food-packaging items)
International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (worldwide)
Marine Stewardship Council (international)
Red Tractor (UK)
The Soil Association (UK)
Sustainable Restaurant Association (UK)
For more information see also our guide to Sustainability in the Kitchen
Thanks to the Sustainable Restaurant Association , National Restaurant Association , Zetter Townhouse Hotel , MacDonald Hotels and Resorts , Hyatt International  and Whitbread  for contributions to this article.