Kitchen Confidential: It’s time to call out greenwashing for what it is
Our anonymous columnist says the F&B industry has a long way to go before it can claim to be sustainable.
Going green. It seems it’s on everybody’s lips these days – but just how much of that is just lip service, and how seriously is the F&B industry responding to the call to reduce waste, and operate in a more ecologically friendly and sustainable way?
Sadly, a lot of what I’m seeing seems to be empty PR spin, or poorly conceived gestures that make no measurable difference.
One example is a popular burger chain serving burgers and fries in containers made from bamboo. Great. A natural product that biodegrades and can be recycled. The chain makes a big noise about its pledge to go green through the use of this bamboo packaging so that the customer feels like they’re making a contribution to saving the environment.
But here’s the thing: Few companies produce these containers, so they have to be flown in, wrapped in loads of plastic. So, they lose the points on reducing plastic use and lose more points for the massive carbon footprint. And then let’s talk about the cost. Your standard paper or plastic packaging costs you less and a dirham, sourced locally. But this eco-packaging, after import costs, is several orders of magnitude more costly and higher costs are, as we all know, one of the biggest challenges any business has to face.Making financial sense
Any new technology is costly and increased costs mean increased selling prices. In a price-sensitive market that is heavily overtraded, is your customer going to pay AED90 for your pizza in eco-friendly packaging, or opt instead to pay AED60 for the same pizza from your competitor who is not using costly pizza boxes lined with oil-absorbing sheets?
I’ve spoken to friends in the industry, and to many of our guests, and the feeling out there, for the most part, is that right now, there just aren’t enough diners putting the eco-friendly drive ahead of the cost and experience of dining out. As much as there is a very vocal movement, the numbers aren’t there.
Businesses change when their bottom line is impacted, and right now the only impact is the heavily increased costs if you do make the change to green packaging and processes. Those changes aren’t drawing in new customers. Altruism and the environment don’t seem to have a natural home on the menu, right now.
Sadly, I think that it’s going to take a lot more than paper straws, changing our packaging and how we manage food waste to make meaningful changes in the F&B industry. And I’m predicting that the government is going to step in and either introduce an environmental tax or impose laws enforcing the use of eco-friendly products. That will increase costs, which affects our bottom line and will be passed on to the consumer.
The entire value chain needs a rethink, from food harvesting and production to the way it is packaged, sold and consumed, and how the waste is managed. Simply picking one aspect like your burger box or putting out PR fluff is not going to make the change that is needed. Until then, I don’t see the F&B industry being serious about going green, even if they wanted to be.