The past decade has produced a sustainability shift. User searches about sustainability have grown enormously; in Pinterest in 2019, “sustainable living” was the most searched term (growth by 69% since 2018) and searches for “sustainable living for beginners” increased by 265% . Nowadays people recycle, take shorter showers, bring their own bags when doing grocery shopping and buy significantly more eco-products. However, the question out there is, is it enough? Kip Andersen, in the documentary Cowspiracy, was quite alarmed to find that while he had been actively taking shorter showers to do his part in saving water, consuming a single beef burger was equivalent to taking a two-month long shower . That much water can flood your entire neighbourhood! So, then again, the question is, what is the most impactful way to become sustainable?
The food sector is without a doubt one of the most harmful for our planet. As seen in the figure, it is responsible for over a quarter (26%) of global greenhouse gas emissions, it occupies half of the world’s habitable (ice- and desert-free) land, it uses 70% of global freshwater withdrawals, it causes 78% of global ocean and fresh eutrophication (water nutrient-rich pollution) and it is listed as a threat to more than 85% of species in danger of extinction, with livestock accounting for 94% of all mammal biomass in the planet excluding humans .
The European Association for Agroecology defines agroecology as a science, practice and social movement that encompasses the whole food system from the soil to the organization of human societies . Dr Vandana Shiva argues that agroecology holds the key to solving the climate and ecological crisis in a just and equitable way . Howard Lyman, a former Montana cattle rancher and author of Mad Cowboy, said that “you can’t be an environmentalist and eat animal products” . In truth the facts are overwhelming - the food sector has a massive environmental footprint. But what can people do about it? The best way to reduce it is by eating a plant-based diet, while other alternative ways are by making better dining choices, and all of them involve behavioural change.
Across the globe, people are currently quarantined at home. Self-isolation has had many impacts on our lives; however, it is a perfect time to reflect on our lifestyles and how to do things differently once routine settles back. As psychologists point out, there are moments when we need to be alone to recharge and reflect to put things in perspective . Dining out habits have been on the rise; millennials spend more money on it than any other past generation . In 2017, about three in four millennials (74%) and Generation Z consumers (72%) were willing to pay more for sustainable products and services . This is too big of a trend to ignore, and restaurants know that. To keep up, all around the world, chefs and managers have been putting their efforts towards evolving the restaurant sector to be more environmentally friendly. One way we see evidence of this is by the increasing presence of vegan options on menus, thanks to millennials and Gen Z becoming more environmentally conscious ; however, choosing vegan options are not necessarily the only ways to contribute. Not only do our menu choices, but also our restaurant choices when dining out matter.
TEDGlobal 2010 speaker Arthur Potts Dawson, one of the world's first "green chefs", founded two restaurants, The Acorn House and WaterHouse, both of which are in the UK and aim to be completely sustainable. The Acorn House uses wind power to generate electricity and has an impressive water filtration system with gravel and charcoal to water the plants they grow. The Waterhouse is all electric, with cooling systems powered by heat exchange from copper pipes submerged in the bordering canal . In Denmark, Moment is a restaurant that claims that sustainability is key in everything they do. It was built with straw bale elements as walls, utilizes wastewater recycling for growing their own spices and has a smoke cleaner system for the mass oven. The restaurant is vegetable based, and ingredients are sourced from their permaculture garden, wild nature, and small local farmers . Filip Lundin in Sweden founded Sopköket, a restaurant that reuses saved raw materials from the waste of other businesses in the neighborhood, what they call trash-cooking. Sopköket reduces food waste, creates jobs and donates meals .
There are many extraordinary initiatives, but there are other simpler measures that more modest restaurants can adapt that still have a positive impact. As an example, a high efficiency ice machine saves up to 2,450 kWh/year and a high efficiency electric connectionless steam cooker can save up to 14,100 kWh/year . Using the efficient ice machine alone can save approximately the same energy as 21 fridges running all year long . It is important that we work together to aim for a sustainable future, and if we choose to have a coffee in a restaurant that uses high efficiency cooking equipment or even offers biodegradable takeout containers instead of plastic, we help to shape the future we want.
The biggest challenge we face is how to find all these inspiring restaurants? People have the spirit, the intention even, but lack the information and the means. Do we know how to make better choices? Many of the current solutions reach out to diners through the simplest way possible: mobile phone apps. For example, Karma proposes individuals to rescue food from local stores and restaurants for half price , and Too Good To Go, with the same principle, is the world's number one food waste app, present in 15 countries . However, there is not a straightforward platform for people to look up eco-friendly restaurants in a broad sense. At least not until now. In Europe, a new startup called Verdantips is emerging in Barcelona. It is developing an app that allows you to locate sustainable restaurants in your area . Through the app, users can identify restaurants that are making efforts to reduce their environmental impact and see the achievements they’ve made in sustainability criteria such as energy efficiency, waste management, animal products consumption, food sourcing, and plastic use, among others.
The consequences of the food sector are quantified and the movement towards sustainability is clear. Now it is a matter of reaching to individuals, to help explain that each purchase matters and that together we can shape the future one choice at a time.
Would you like to know more about Verdantips? Stay tuned for their next article, coming out in the 4th edition of the CommUnity Post Magazine!
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