It continues to amaze me that in 2007, when I made the transition from running restaurants to helping restaurateurs run their businesses in more sustainable ways, the green movement in the foodservice industry was essentially still in its infancy. Now, being green has become one of the fastest growing trends to ever hit this country – and it's not slowing down.
According to the Hartman Group, a leading consumer research company, 29 percent of American consumers can now identify a sustainable company, compared with only 5 percent in 2007. That means that close to one-third of the U.S. population went from environmental zero to environmental hero in just 3 years! In 2007, 54 percent of consumers said they knew what sustainability was all about, but when further questioned, very few of them could define the term. Today, 88 percent of Americans consider themselves to be aware and engaged in the world of sustainability, and 56 percent consider themselves to be knowledgeable of how to be more sustainable.
The restaurant industry has responded, as sustainable foodservice concepts continue to emerge and operators are building sustainability into their existing business models. Consumers are intrigued by green efforts and a growing number are basing their purchasing decisions on a business’s “greenness.” National Restaurant Association research found that 40 percent of consumers are taking a restaurant’s energy and water conservation efforts into consideration when choosing where to dine out.
Whether you’re a restaurant that has embraced this new era of eco-friendliness or has just begun to think about jumping on board the sustainability train, now is the time to get your message out. But before you do, understand that sustainability requires you to continually re-evaluate your operations to find ways to conserve resources, divert waste, and be more efficient. It requires a strong commitment now and for years to come. When you’re ready to share your successes with guests, keep these "Dos and Don'ts" of marketing your environmental efforts in mind.
DO incorporate your sustainability efforts into the fabric of your business. To be a greener restaurant, you have to make a commitment and not just do it once in a while. Sustainability isn’t something you buy off the shelf once; it’s more like an ongoing subscription. Similarly, green marketing should consist of ongoing communications, rather than a one-time campaign.
DO share with your guests what you have done, not what you’re going to do. Consumers in general, and especially green-minded ones, seek out products and services that deliver results. Convey the impact and results of your efforts first and foremost. You can certainly refer to planned efforts, but don’t make those the backbone of your current communications.
DO treat green efforts as a series of steps and communicate the steps you have taken and are currently working on. Be transparent and tell guests why you are or are not doing certain things. Maybe you aren’t able to recycle cardboard due to a lack of availability of that service, but you are recycling glass and looking into options for recycling cardboard – tell that story.
DON’T preach, teach. Don’t talk about what others aren’t doing or pat yourself on the back too hard. Use your messaging as an opportunity to educate others about the steps you’re taking to become more sustainable and about sustainability overall. These types of conversations do resonate with consumers, but they have to be honest and true without ulterior motives.
DON’T call your business green; call it greener. Be clear in your message that your business is engaged in the journey that is sustainability. Saying you’re green implies that you’ve reached a destination that makes your business an eco-friendly one. Green is a concept and a movement, not a snapshot in time. Communicate that you’re committed to ongoing improvements to reduce your environmental footprint.
Chris Moyer, a 14-year foodservice veteran, manages the National Restaurant Associations Conserve: Solutions for Sustainability initiative, helping its members find solutions that are good for both business and the environment.