• 10.-12. October 2022
  • Exhibition Centre Berlin

29 September 2021, Interview by Jan-Peter Wulf

Louisa Dodd: „Citrus is the Meat of the Bar Industry“

Bars have often been the pioneer in sustainability in the hospitality industry. But there is still a lot to do. How drinks can become greener and why recyclable materials are not the best solution.

 

At this year’s BCB, Louisa Dodd, senior project manager at the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA), will show and explain bar owners and bartenders how to set their bars for sustainability. We had the opportunity to talk to her in advance about quick wins, a holistic approach to the issue and how bars can still become greener whilst struggling with the current, Covid-induced situation.

Louisa, please give us a brief Intro: What is the SRA doing?

Louisa Dodd: The SRA is the world’s largest hospitality sustainability programme. We work with business to measure their sustainability through the „food made good“ rating which assesses it based on our framework. And we also work with them to inspire change and to understand the areas where they are doing well already and where they are falling a little bit short to bring them up. We also cooperate with other industry partners like big suppliers into the hospitality on consultancy projects.

Does the SRA also include Bars?

Louisa: Yes. We work with everyone from wet-led businesses like pubs and bars to Michelin starred restaurants. 

© Louisa Dodd, Senior Project Manager at the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA), will show bar owners and bartenders how to make their bars more sustainable in her presentation at BCB 2021. 

What is the Awareness for Sustainability in the Bar Business these Days in your Point of View?

Louisa: We started with 50 businesses when SRA was founded ten years ago, amongst them only a couple of pubs and bars in the UK. Today, we have over 12,000 in our community and we work with biggest bar groups here (other than in Germany, most outlets are part of a larger group, editorial note). A lot of sustainability initiatives that have eventually transgressed over to restaurants, like plastic straw discussions, really have started in pubs and bars. Bartenders are inherently very creative. Think of tackling food waste in cocktails! Often I am seeing a lot of forward-thinking food waste solutions coming out of the pub and bar world.

Beyond Straws, what are the three „Quick Wins“ for a Bar when it comes to Sustainability? Things one can easily switch?

Louisa: It’s not really a quick win but the first and most important thing for us: You cannot monitor and manage what you haven’t measured. You need some sort of assessment in order to understand how well you are doing and what to do next. That’s the core part of what we do at „food made good“ with our rating and also with our free self-assessment tool called food made good 50 which is as relevant for drinks businesses as for restaurants.

The key bugbear is around garnish waste. In the food world, we differentiate between spoilage, preparation and plate and it’s basically the same when it comes to beverages. So for example limes that have gone mouldy, lime stalks left over after preparation or citrus peel in the glass that turns into waste. Doing an audit what causes the food waste behind your bar can make a huge difference.

And straws of course. Go through your drinks menu and work out which drinks you currently offer straws with. Or look at your staff and see what drinks they are putting straws into and stop putting them in. Have them available in your bar for customers to choose themselves, and, ideally, make sure they are reusable. Even if they are made of paper, compostable or biodegradable, it is still single use. We have to move the narrative away to reusable solutions or to eliminate it completely. 

How about energy?

Louisa: We suggest switching to renewable energy and to reduce the amount of energy by understanding what causes your consumption. Often you can work with your energy provider who can segment the areas of your operation and work out the parts which use the most amount – is it the kitchen, the fridges?

And how about guests: Can you involve them? We know that bars are hideaways. You don’t want to stress guests with environmental issues, I guess.

Louisa: I agree, no one wants to bombarded with sustainability information on a Friday night, ready to relax (laughs). Often it is about options: There will always be some customers that are more interested in sustainability. So how do you have the information there for people that want to make purchasing decisions, based on whether your business is working on sustainability or not? How do you communicate about the achievements you have made and also things you’re still haven’t quite worked out yet? It’s a journey and no bar will never have completed sustainability. So, having that on your website, on social media, on the back page of your cocktail menu if you have one is a good idea.

Moreover, there will always be certain aspects of sustainability that resonate more with you as a business and your team. Maybe you’re particularly passionate about the fact they are not using any fresh garnish any more, or someone really cares about community and the social influences of what they do. So, choose the things that really resonate with your brand and your employees, those are the things you are most comfortable speaking about.

In restaurants, one crucial aspect of sustainability is about curating food suppliers. Same in bars?

Louisa: It is really important to understand the credentials of the suppliers on your back bar by simply pulling out questions: We want to know more about the sustainability projects you are working on. Can you please tell us these facts, so that we can train up our team? A lot of your sustainability footprint will be held in those suppliers that are on your back bar because a lot of them are working on really amazing things.

Bartenders are at the front line of selling drinks to customers. That’s an opportunity point since when a customer seems interested in sustainability or doesn’t know exactly which drink he wants, that’s the point to influence the purchasing habit based on the sustainability information that you now about the suppliers.

When sourcing that sustainability information from suppliers, how can one avoid bias or greenwashing?

Louisa: I would say something to always look out for is third-party certifications. Are they working with other partners within the industry to validate or verify the things they are talking about? So, with things like fair trade, you know there is another level of evidence checking going on. At SRA, we know that the main motivation for most of the pubs and bars to work with us is to have a third party verify their initiative through our rating. It provides a level of reassuring to their customers.

In general: What should spirit brands from your perspective do to become more sustainable?

Louisa: Spirits are food, basically. Their wheat, corn etc. is grown in the same way up until processing. A lot of sustainability I am seeing in the beverage brands is around production, transportation, manufacture or packaging. But around 70 percent of most food product’s carbon footprint is located before it even leaves the farm gate. So how can we ensure that alcohol brands are doing things in the agricultural space, that the ingredient are being grown through forward-thinking, regenerative agricultural practices? It will become more and more mandatory that we are doing organic practices.

Bars are going through difficult times as we all know because of the Covid situation. How can they pursue sustainability under these circumstances as they all have to look after their budget?

Louisa: A sustainable business is only possible if you’re financially sustainable, too. Certain things in making change will cost a little bit more money. But a lot is about simplifying and about efficiency. Take the example of citrus and food waste: We often call citrus the meat of the bar industry. Much of it is wasted. It travels from the other side of the world, often through no certification or standards. It requires a lot of pollution and pesticides. We would suggest that one sources citrus through standards like fair trade, and often business will say: That is more expensive. So it’s about asking yourself: How do we reduce, make operations more efficient? What drinks really, really need citrus? If you can half the amount of citrus because you simplify it to those the things that really add flavor, then you have the capital to invest into procurement that has sustainability standards in it. It is the same with straws: Do you really need them? The most sustainable and cheapest option is the one you did not buy. Our mouth has worked very well for millennia without it.

Louisa, thank you very much.


Louisa Dodd’s talk „Setting the Bar for Sustainability“ will be taking place on Tuesday, October 12th, from 4:30 to 5:30 pm at BCB main stage. More information here.