With the help of leading industry experts, we share how you can be more purposeful in your bar’s approach to sustainability.
Sustainability, far more than a fad or simply the latest buzzword of the industry, is a pressing topic that has become integrated into all hospitality venues, and their operations, to some degree. While the awareness around sustainability continues to grow, bars are becoming increasingly more inclined to adopt greener initiatives, as well as becoming more purposeful in their attempts to be one step closer to net-zero.
Speaking on the importance of sustainability within hospitality venues, Lorraine Mizon, Barware Buyer at Drinkstuff, explains: “It is vital for venues to prioritise sustainability and switch to eco-friendly solutions. Venues have a substantial impact on the environment, given the resources they consume and the waste they generate.
“By adopting eco-friendly practices, venues can lead by example, promoting sustainability among attendees, suppliers and other businesses. This not only benefits the environment, but also enhances the venue’s long-term success and reputation,” Lorraine adds.
Richard Stephens, Head of Technical Services, HEINEKEN UK, agrees, also touching on the financial benefits being greener can bring: “It goes without saying that the industry has had an extremely difficult few years, with the potential for 2024 to bring a further set of challenges. Despite this, it’s essential that venues remain committed to operating more sustainably and making these changes. Implementing sustainable practices are not only good from the perspective of the reducing your carbon output, but can often come hand-in-hand with reducing costs too.”
While the importance of being green grows, it is important to consider what actually makes a venue sustainable. Lorraine believes that being sustainable is far more than a mere tick-in-the-box: “To be sustainable, it’s not enough to just meet basic requirements. Simply ticking the boxes won’t do. We need to fully embrace sustainability as a core value and make it part of our culture. It’s about more than just doing the bare minimum; it’s about truly dedicating ourselves to making a positive impact on the environment.”
Sustainability, with all that it encompasses, can be a daunting problem to try and tackle all at once, so it is important that your venue breaks it down into something that is achievable for everyone in the team. Nathan Larkin and Gavin Wrigley, Owners of Speak in Code, believe in taking sustainability step-by-step, first looking at the choices your bar makes and the results of these choices: “Understanding the environmental impacts of all your choices is the first step towards responsible decision making, and also realising that being sustainable is a journey not a destination. If the choices you make are intentional, well informed and responsibly focused, then you’re less likely to go down the route of greenwashing, showboating or just ‘ticking the boxes’.
“As an independent bar, our choices come from a place of true intent to minimise our impact from the whole team: most of it is behind the scenes and pretty thankless. Things like: pressuring suppliers for less packaging, producing all our cleaning solution in house with no chemicals or packaging or creating online community platforms for local industry to share their excess. Being fully committed is implementing a long-term vision through strategy and culture, especially when no-one’s watching,” they add.
To Nathan and Gavin, shared team values are crucial in achieving your venue’s sustainability goals: “This must be a message that all of the team buy into from the beginning. A bar committed to sustainability implements positive change across all areas of the business, and includes the team in decision making too – a process that prioritises socially responsible practices and contributes to the wellbeing of the community.
“Being committed to sustainability is to look at the following and think more responsibly: local sourcing, transportation of goods, waste reduction, maximising flavour extraction, energy efficiency, water conservation, using responsible materials, community engagement, education and transparency. Choosing to work with people who align with your values is the foundation for all of this to be a successful sustainability journey. Speak in Code is constantly engaging with challenging ideas to lessen our impact, and our team is central to this process. For us, this is key to ensuring everyday decisions are always conscious of impact: commitment can’t be top down it has to be grassroots.”
Richard from HEINEKEN also believes in working together as a team to combat the issues regarding sustainability, whether that be across the industry or within venues amongst staff. He says:
“We need to all learn from each other, and open, accessible dialogue will keep the industry moving forward in a difficult environment. That’s why, last year, we launched our Energy Well Spent Debate Series, and this year followed it up with the Hot Seat Series. These initiatives bring people together from across the hospitality industry, allowing them to share knowledge that inspires businesses to collaborate to achieve common goals, including acting more sustainably, while still maintaining a key focus on issues of the day.
“The Energy Well Spent: Hot Seat Series was created to discuss some of the biggest issues facing the industry, as well as cover anything else industry professionals felt was crucial. During the 9-episode video series, we spoke to the likes of Net Zero Now, Zero Carbon Company and BBPA, with topics including ‘Involving the team with sustainability’, ‘Improving operational efficiencies’ and ‘Reducing energy usage’. The series offers short, sharp videos with content for operators, to provide support in vital topic areas, and act as a starting point to help provide clear and useful information that can help operators on their journey of looking to improve in certain areas.”
Bringing the topic of sustainability into weekly staff briefings is crucial to ensure that all members of the team share the same long-term vision, and are each responsible and accountable in their role in the journey. Nathan and Gavin advise venues to take it that one step further: “Start a sustainability committee – learning from others is a great way to improve your efforts, and team members can be fundamental drivers of your sustainability initiatives. Learn from others around you, start local meeting groups, look deeper into your waste companies recycling policies, put pressure on your suppliers to remove unnecessary packaging, stop using blue roll, move to chemical free cleaning, try to create a closed loop on your menu and never let flavour leave in the bin, share waste with others who may not see it as waste, look at your energy usage.”
While sustainable practices are crucial for venues to adopt as an integral aspect of their business, it is equally important to strike a balance between being green and maintaining creativity. Nathan and Gavin explain: “Fundamentally, bartenders want to be creative, and sustainable approaches don’t need to be a hindrance: in fact narrowing focus can often force out our most creative solutions. Highlighting how to rethink our procedures and drink development with sustainability in mind, whilst being clear about the issues we’re trying to solve, is the best way to educate the next crop of bartenders, and ensure they are invested in the shared journey.”
Making sure that bartenders’ creativity and passion for their craft is not hindered by the need to be sustainable is achievable through examining some ingredient and garnish swaps your bar can make. Lorraine from Drinkstuff believes that a large part of being sustainable begins behind the bar: “Addressing sustainability behind the bar, particularly in everyday practices like drink garnishes, holds immense significance for venues. Even though garnishes are small, they can create a lot of waste in busy bars. Switching to sustainable options, like Frona Dried Fruit garnishes, can help reduce waste. Starting sustainability efforts at the bar can lead to bigger initiatives at the venue. It not only changes how people think, but it can also save money and help the environment.
“Frona is committed to sustainability – they actively reduce waste and strive to have a minimal carbon footprint. A crucial part of this commitment is how Frona dries their fruit. All Frona products are proudly made using 100% geothermal energy. Bars often have a problem with wasted food, specifically spoiled fruit. One way to solve this problem is by using Frona dried fruit garnishes for drinks. These dried fruit garnishes have a long shelf life, lasting for 18 months when stored properly. By switching to dried fruit, bars can also eliminate the waste that comes from preparing fresh fruit. With Frona Dried Fruit, there’s no need to throw away unused prepared fruit,” Lorraine adds.
Looking further behind the bar, and making swaps elsewhere, such as to your draught beer system, is a simple, but purposeful, step to becoming more committed to sustainability in your venue.
Dan Vorlage, Executive Director, Steel Keg Association, explains: “Given challenges facing bars, it can be difficult to make sustainable choices, especially if it means making compromises. However, there is plenty of ‘low-hanging fruit’, opportunities to make more efficient use of finite resources, helping businesses become more sustainable economically AND environmentally. Businesses can show an authentic commitment to sustainability by consistently making these small changes that add up over time.
“Pubs, bars and restaurants are fortunate to have easy access to the original reusable containers, stainless steel kegs and casks, which help save billions of single use containers from waste streams every year. Expanding draft beer programs, and featuring draft more prominently in employee and customer communications, is a surprisingly easy step to take, as it’s good for the planet and good for business. Just being mindful to ensure the beer you order arrives in reusable steel kegs, rather than difficult to recycle plastic kegs, is a simple way to make an impact without increasing costs. Any bar can build this kind of thinking into how they operate.”
Just like making the swap to reusable steel kegs, your venue can also look to the new technologies which can help benefit the environment, as well as your business.
Richard at HEINEKEN says: “As a business, it’s essential to look at where you can make savings across the whole site, and there are countless areas where one can do this, one great example being looking at where your wastage begins – very often this is in the cellar. Great cellar management is vital to minimising wastage, and, reducing wastage goes hand-in-hand with both saving money and being more sustainable. There are several steps that operators can take to improve this.
“Cellars must be kept at a constant temperature of 11–13°C. If the cellar is too cold, cask ales will be flat and may have a chill haze. If too warm, the beer may fob, which can cause further wastage. The SmartDispense® CellarManager can reduce your energy consumption and costs by up to 36% a year, by controlling your cellar cooling and reducing energy bills and carbon footprint,” Richard finishes.
While being committed to your venue’s sustainability initiatives, it is equally important to be mindful of how these greener ways are communicated to guests; using sustainability as a selling-point, or ‘greenwashing’ your venue, should be avoided to ensure your commitment to sustainability is genuine and purposeful.
The team at Speak in Code are very cautious in how they market their sustainability initiatives to their guests: “For us it’s a little low key, but we have some initiatives here in our hometown of Manchester. We have a group on Facebook called ‘Wasteman of Manchester’s Bars’, a group dedicated to sharing what we might consider waste, that may still have value to others. Many bars post there first, before putting something in the trash. We also make our own cleaning solution with the Toucan Active system, which turns salt and water into a chemical free cleaning solution. We offer this cleaning solution to other Manchester bars and restaurants as a way of cutting down on their own chemical usage, packaging and transportation. So, our local hospitality community are our closest allies, and are aware of our efforts due to our collaborative mindset. We also collaborate on seminars to deliver our ‘profitability through sustainability’ initiative in partnership with Hennessy, educating bartenders on our closed loop practices and some of our operating measures.
“We generally keep a low profile, even considering we’re an entirely plant based cocktail bar too. It’s not something we shout about, as we know this can come across as gimmicky and like some kind of sales trick. Plant based and sustainable for us should always be an added bonus rather than a safety net. Every guest that comes through our door receives a small insight into who we are at our core, but we prefer to be a great bar first and foremost, and remember that what matters most is the guest experience.”
Ultimately, being purposeful in your venue’s approach to sustainability starts with mindful choices and shared, core values amongst your team. Look to your fundamental business practices, from the ingredients you source to your waste management solutions, and make each decision with sustainability in mind. Holding equal importance as mindful decisions, making sustainability a focus within your team, through awareness and problem-solving, is essential in your venue’s commitment to being green.