Professional Comment

Innovations Helping Hospitality To Cut Carbon. To Make Net Zero Achievable Both Practically And Profitability

Mark Chapman, founder and CEO, the Zero Carbon Forum 

Over the last decade, I’ve worked with hospitality businesses to cut carbon. While it is no doubt a very complex and challenging task, there are many things that can and are being done by operators to make an impact and reduce emissions on the path to net zero.

75% of UK CO2 emissions are from businesses and hospitality is one of the biggest emitting sectors. But things are changing. Big and small players alike are putting a stake in the ground and proactively demonstrating their commitment to cutting carbon.

While the opportunities and challenges vary across each sector, whether you’re a pub, brewery, restaurant, take away or hotel, there are several priorities that can and need to be actioned to tackle the crisis collectively. Actively embracing carbon cutting solutions will help the industry to bounce back from the challenges of the pandemic and be in a stronger position to reach net zero, at pace.

Cutting carbon equates to reduced costs, particularly when it comes to energy and during scopes 1 and 2. In the short term however it requires investment – to implement reduction initiatives and reach neutrality. But this investment will pay off in the long term.

There are a number of quick-win initiatives as well as longer term strategies that hospitality businesses can implement to help achieve their sustainability goals. Here are some key ones to consider.

1- Food and Beverage.

Supply chain emissions account for 60% of the 90%+ of scope 3 emissions and purchased goods and services, namely food & beverage, make up the biggest chunk of this.

Implementing menu changes that offer a higher % of vegetables and reducing dependence on meat and dairy options is the biggest thing that operators can do. Favouring plant-based options, such as vegan cheese and meat substitutes will help to greatly reduce the carbon footprint of the menu.

Reduce food waste. AI powered waste bins, such as Winnow an AI enabled tool which allows kitchens to automatically track and analyse food waste, maximise operational efficiency and cut costs, in just a few clicks.

Local and seasonal food sourcing avoids the need for air freight.

Influence your existing suppliers. Those that aren’t yet on their zero carbon journey will be key catalysts to change.

Use suppliers that support agricultural techniques, such as regenerative farming, which helps to develop more sustainable options and promotes a more responsible commodity procurement.

Develop urban farming and use products that come from your own garden where possible. For example, Adnams have their own beehives that produce local honey used in local outlets.

Use online platforms available to train teams on how to reduce food waste. As a reminder, between 50% to 60% of food waste could be avoided in the UK and globally. It’s responsible for 8% to 10% of carbon emissions. Our partner WRAP has developed a series of free resources through its Guardians of Grub campaign which is a recommended read.

2- Energy.

While the smallest emission area, energy reduction is in the direct control of organisations, and a great place to start on the sustainability journey. It’s relatively straightforward for businesses to switch to green electricity, operate more efficiently with their machinery, and cut consumption to address their energy emissions. It’s a small part, but the easiest to do, even during the current crisis. If starting from scratch, start here before moving onto the bigger areas.

One of the quickest and cheapest approaches is to purchase unbundled renewable energy certificates or renewable electricity tariffs from your suppliers. Longer term, we recommend exploring PPAs and onsite renewable energy generation to increase credibility and reduce risk.

One of the initiatives the forum has developed is a “renewable energy benchmark”, which aims to help members understand the cost/saving of buying credible renewable power and the carbon savings associated with it.

We have also launched an ‘overnight energy initiative’ to help our members’ operations teams reduce overnight energy waste by implementing simple yet impactful processes overnight to reduce emissions and cut costs. In a most recent example, one operator achieved a saving of £20,000 for one outlet worth 30t CO2 through getting the team to turn all equipment off overnight.

3- Waste.

Take a demand-led supply approach. This means not over-buying and keeping track of plate, spoilage, and production waste. Food waste distribution centres are a great initiative and offer much needed community support but should only be a last resort, as they offer a relatively small contribution to cutting carbon.

Harness the data. A number of hospitality operators including forum members Burger King, Pizza Hut, TGI Fridays and The Restaurant Group are using energy analytics and engagement programmes to provide their operations teams with weekly insights on how to minimise energy waste.

Savings of up to £5,000 and 10tco2 per outlet have been achieved through Carbon Statement  which gives actionable insights on where waste is occurring.  One of these initiatives – installing LED lighting can reduce lighting loads by up to 70% and paybacks of one to two years can be achieved.

Minimise and reduce all packaging and switch to recycled, recyclable, bioplastic and biodegradable materials.

Anaerobic digesters in waste. Anaerobic digestion is a sequence of processes by which microorganisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen. The process is used for industrial or domestic purposes to manage waste or to produce fuels. Much of the fermentation used industrially to produce food and drink products (such as beers) as well as home fermentation, uses anaerobic digestion.

Forum members have been instrumental in leading the way in this area: Adnams was the first in the UK to use brewery and local food waste to produce renewable gas for injection into the national gas grid as well as providing gas for use as a vehicle fuel, while Brewdog is using Anaerobic digestion to convert its organic process waste to site-generated biomethane, replacing all of its grid gas, and reducing its water usage by more than 40%.

4- Transport.

Scrutinise transport methods and adapt to new and more sustainable modes of transportation.

Look to electrify your fleets, but also haulage aggregation and backhauling recycling waste. Minimise employee and business travel to mandate green transport choices. But the biggest thing you can do is to eliminate air freight in sourcing methods.

Collaboration in hospitality to achieve climate goals

The hospitality sector must work together to come up with ambitious targets and solutions without delay to achieve net zero. Collaboration is at the heart of who we are. We hold our members accountable for their commitment and progress. Those that are advanced in their sustainability journey are sharing learnings with others. We want it to be a motor for action and an opportunity to be part of the debate, rather than excluded, but also to have a united voice to influence political discussions in the right direction.

We have selected 2040 as our target net zero year instead of 2050 – as per what the climate change spokeswoman Allegra Stratton has said -‘the science is clear’ and it now calls for faster action. Our ambition reflects that. It is not an easy task, but it is what we want to achieve. The current global and national extreme climate disasters remind us that we cannot take small steps.

This crisis is bigger than any of us and by working together as a united industry we can achieve more, together and critically, faster.