Educating operators on how to incorporate sustainable business practices topped the agenda at National Restaurant Association (NRA) Show sessions from the NRA’s Conserve Sustainability program. The educations sessions offered tips, tools and expert advice from operators on sourcing local foods, developing an effective composting plan, designing a sustainable restaurant and practicing energy efficiency.

“If we are going to be successful in recruiting people to become more [invested in] practicing sustainability, we’ve got to be in line with their priorities,” says Jim Hanna, Starbucks’ director of environmental affairs, addressing a session on zero waste. He said some drivers for implementing sustainability programs in restaurants include the following:

• The desire to reduce carbon footprint
• To increase employee pride
• Appeal to customer expectations
• Lower operating cost
Another sustainable practice continuing to gather momentum is the local sourcing of foods and ingredients. At a seminar on integrating local farming strategies, Ryan Stone, executive chef for Centerplate’s Levi’s Stadium in San Francisco, says that consumers today have an even greater understanding of and expectation for local sourcing of food products.

“We’re seeing an even greater awareness of the importance of local sourcing,” he says. “We’ve literally got hundreds of farmers’ markets the public looks at, and stores, like Whole Foods, that promote the sourcing of the products they sell. I think more and more people are going to ask for that and it will continue to grow. It also, in trying to educate people on why they’re paying $2 or $3 more for something because it is local, will make my job easier.”

Richard Young, senior engineer and director of education at the Food Service Technology Center in Santa Rosa, Calif., said purchasing efficient equipment was the best thing operators can do to create sustainable kitchens.

“A lot of today’s commercial kitchens are the same post-war, late 1940s type of kitchens,” he says. “So, what will the kitchens of the future look like? Well, the first thing we’d like to do is move from the standard, overbuilt one-of-everything kitchen to an energy-wise (model).”

To create an efficient kitchen, Young recommends these steps:

• Adopt best-in-class technology
• Install technology such as induction cooking equipment, combination ovens and high efficiency fryers

“Design decisions really make sense,” he says. “The decisions you make regarding equipment can affect your bottom line. They really can put money in your pocket.”