Sustainability: “You can do it early and get credit, or do it late and get none. But either way you’re going to do it,” Hawksmoor founder Will Beckett told delegates at the 2023 Arena Sustainability event, attended by Fleet Street director of corporate and reputation, Ed Whitehead.

From rib-eyes with purpose to delivery trucks running on renewables, here’s Ed’s take on the day:

Raising the bar

The net zero building, 100 Liverpool Street, played host to the event for an engaging and informative day, exploring how businesses and individuals are making a difference to ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) in foodservice and hospitality and its supply chain, and how they are implementing change and leading the way in sustainable ways of operating to build a better world.

Andrew Fishwick, Chair of Adamo Hospitality, opened proceedings, setting the tone for an event focused not just on knowing what better looks like, but on continuing to raise the bar. He urged businesses to aim not just for sustainability, but regeneration, to make sure they give back to their people, and to strive to inspire behaviour change from their consumers.

The main event of the day followed. A Q&A, hosted by Bob Gordon, Director at Zero Carbon Forum, and featuring: Mike Hanson, Director of Sustainable Business, WSH; Shereen Ritchie, COO, Sprout & Former UK Managing Director, LEON; Will Beckett, Founder and CEO, Hawksmoor; Pete Statham, Head of Sustainability & Government Relations, Sysco GB; Dr Laura Kirwan, Sustainability Lead, Nutritics, and Philip Rayner, Owner, Glebe Farm Foods.

Engaging your teams

A key theme running throughout the discussion was the heightened importance of “purpose” for team members. Shereen, an ex-MD at Leon, believes that teams in businesses where she has worked, predominantly comprised of people under 30, really care. Will seconded this, joking that while “nobody has ever asked me for a rib eye with purpose, it’s very important to our people,” while Mike referenced research which found that some people would accept significantly lower salaries to work for a company they believe in.

Pete talked about how Brakes is helping chefs understand how menu planning can reduce carbon footprints, and Laura shared similar insights from Nutritics’ involvement with the Climate Smart Chef project, an EU initiative to involve European chefs as promoters of low emission, nutritious and affordable diets.

Mike advocated the need to engage everybody, and stressed the importance of improving carbon literacy amongst your team. His view is that people are looking for learning, so sustainability professionals need to “get out of the echo chamber and talk to people who don’t get it.” Individual actions like switching off a light or turning down the thermostat can have massive overall impacts, so it’s important not to lose sight of what might initially seem to be basic information sharing and education.

Despite the economic climate, sustainability is ‘pushing against an open door’

With food inflation and energy bills impacting operators’ margins and consumers’ disposable income, you could be forgiven for worrying that the current economic climate may hamper progress. However, responses from the panel were largely positive.

Mike pointed out that the last financial crash had actually led to an increase in sustainability-focused initiatives, and he explained that new reporting requirements, coupled with the incentives being offered by lenders for businesses meeting certain environmental criteria, meant that sustainability was ‘pushing against an open door’ in the boardroom. This was a view shared by Pete, who added that dual pressure from Sysco’s customers and investors meant that the increased focus on sustainability was filtering throughout the entire business.

Will advocated rearticulating the relationship between sustainability and money. “Forget the cost, think about how it can be profitable,” was his advice, explaining that it’s not just about making an ethical case, but about identifying how it can help you grow faster and potentially secure more investment.

Shereen highlighted the importance of education, pointing to a time when she removed all palm oil from the supply chain at Leon, only to later learn that the more positive environmental step would have been to source sustainable palm oil.

The power of data

This led the panel naturally to the next topic, around how the sector can get good, credible data that allows us to make good decisions and move in the same direction.

For Laura, the answer is clear – if you’re going to make commitments and report against those commitments, you first need a benchmark. And that needs to be based in science and evidence, something that’s peer-reviewed and stands up to audit. It’s much easier, after all, to defend a decision that’s based on facts.

Both Mike and Pete, who partner with Nutritics to understand their environmental impact, were in agreement. With their food supply chain accounting for 80-90% of their carbon footprint, they understand the importance of addressing food in order to achieve their respective Net Zero strategies. With data, says Mike, you can understand your hotspots, and target your efforts, rather than taking a scattergun approach or choosing an area of focus because of a certain narrative.

Engaging with consumers

There were mixed opinions on how to engage with consumers, and the cut-through that sustainability stories had. Philip, who has experience from a foodservice and a retail perspective (with his PureOaty drink) believes that the opportunity to educate consumers is greater in foodservice, with more touch points and longer time to engage, compared to retail where you have limited space to print information onto your packaging.

Shereen felt that a ‘loud minority’ of consumers really care about sustainability, but that sustainability is becoming the norm for more consumers, with hybrid diets becoming increasingly common across all age groups.

From Will, there was an acknowledgement that sustainability doesn’t feature high on the list of reasons people visit Hawksmoor. His belief is that consumers want to know that you’ve done good things and trust you, but don’t need to hear all the detail.

What does the future hold?

In her final comments to delegates, Laura warned that more mandatory reporting is coming – in addition to minimum standards set to be introduced relating to food waste.

Pete agreed, saying that regulation will push up standards across the board, and also envisaged a near future where all Brakes delivery trucks run on renewable fuels. The way we engage with suppliers will also change, said Mike – with greater data and better awareness of the environmental impact of food will come more supplier engagement and better collaboration. Phil echoed this, urging operators to work with their suppliers to make sure products are meeting their sustainability objectives.

But for anybody looking for just one key takeaway from the panel, Will provided a crystal clear insight into Hawksmoor’s enlightened approach to responsibility. *You can do it early and get credit, or do it late and get none. But either way you’re going to do it.”


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