A sustainable plan?

3 March 2010
Sarah Campbell blog picConversation over dinner last night turned to restaurants, perhaps unsurprising given I was in a restaurant, having dinner with a visiting relative who happens to be a restaurateur. Apparently, as we were chatting over our kofte kebabs (it was a Turkish establishment) other foodies and journalists were celebrating the launch of the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) in another London eatery. Restaurants that can prove their sustainable credentials can now become SRA-accredited, meaning they can display a “We’re at the table” sticker in their window to show customers they care about sustainability. The association has worked out more than 100 criteria for membership, divided into 14 areas, six of which are to do with sourcing and supply chain (such as buying organic fruit and veg, reducing the use of imported produce and insisting that suppliers use less packaging). This is great news for sustainable food buying – but there is one problem. To become accredited, a restaurant has only to tick three of the 100 boxes. And some of those criteria include providing tap water, offering vegetarian options on the menu and giving customers doggy bags on request. The SRA obviously wants as many restaurants as possible to sign up, and says that the real proof of restaurants' commitment to sustainability will be in their attaining bronze, silver and gold accreditation, which have tougher criteria. Restaurants also have to tick more boxes every year to remain accredited. So the sentiment behind the SRA is sound, and the prominence given to sourcing commendable. But with such a low bar for membership, even with a graded accreditation system, I fear that the "We're at the table" sticker will become ubiquitous – and therefore meaningless.
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