Greenwashing: What Restaurant Owners Should Know
August 08, 2022
In recent years, consumers have been paying more attention to their environmental impact and choosing brands that focus on sustainability efforts. As a result, more and more businesses are revamping policies and practices to demonstrate their commitment to eco-consciousness. Not only is this a win for our ecosphere, but it can also help boost sales.
As a restaurant owner, you know repeat customers and increased revenue are essential to preserving profits. However, when marketing your particular eco-friendly practices, it’s essential not to exaggerate sustainability approaches. Businesses that are misleading their patrons about their green efforts could be accused of “greenwashing.”
What is greenwashing and how can you avoid it in your restaurant? Read on for all the details.
What’s Greenwashing in Restaurants?
Greenwashing, according to Investopedia, is “the process of conveying a false impression or providing misleading information about how a company's products are more environmentally sound.” Essentially, a company makes a misleading claim about being “green” in an effort to draw in more customers. So, how does greenwashing occur in restaurants? The answer to that is multifaceted.
Greenwashing could be as bold as stating a restaurant is zero-waste, but still producing garbage that ends up in landfills. Greenwashing can also be an accident. An owner might think they are using compostable to-go containers when in fact, the products themselves are being incorrectly marketed. To safeguard your restaurant from being accused of greenwashing, there are simple steps you can take.
How to Avoid Greenwashing in the Food Industry
Greenwashing is a hot-button topic in the restaurant industry. A recent article in the New York Times reveals that 220 lawsuits were directed at food and beverage companies in 2020 for mislabeling their products. That’s a 350 percent increase compared to 10 years ago.
With customer trust paramount to a thriving business, no establishment wants to be blamed for misleading its patrons. Here are some tips to help you avoid accidentally miscommunicating your commitment to sustainability:
- Be Specific: While it might seem acceptable to say, “We use organic and ethically-sourced ingredients whenever possible,” the statement is vague and open to interpretation. Instead, be transparent about which menu items are eco-friendly. If you purchase fish from a company that prides itself on sustainable practices and waste-reduction techniques, note that on your menu.
- Do Your Research: Keep in mind that there are businesses participating in greenwashing. Don’t let your establishment fall victim to false advertising. Research where you are getting your products, and always read the fine print. For example, check your biodegradable to-go containers for polystyrene foam. Polystyrene foam isn’t always recyclable and not accepted at most public composting facilities. Instead, look for BPI-certified products.
- Call Out Your Plant-Based Items: Customers are turning to plant-based meals for their health as well as to support sustainability efforts. If you have vegetarian or vegan items, clearly demarcate them on your menu.
- Measure Your Efforts: Are you reducing food waste, investing in green technologies, or utilizing alternative energy sources? Quantify your sustainability efforts and communicate that to your consumers. Perhaps your in-house fermentation program saves 60 percent of your food waste from having to be thrown away. Maybe your solar-powered patio lights have helped reduce your carbon footprint. Whatever it is, be specific about your eco-efforts.
A green-focused restaurant doesn’t happen overnight. Sustainability is a process, so working toward an end goal while being transparent about your steps is an excellent way to avoid greenwashing and secure your customer base.
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