I consider myself to be conscious of the impact I have on the environment. I avoid single-use plastic, try to shop for second-hand clothes and would even walk in the rain to reduce how much I use my car. I also don’t buy meat in my food shop, swapped from semi-skimmed to almond milk and hunt for the red lion on my egg cartons. But this is where my sustainability stops.

In the last few weeks, I have eaten out multiple times. I ordered calamari from Zizzi’s, avocado toast from a local café, a quarter pounder from McDonalds, and to expose myself further, multiple pizzas and kebabs after nights out. I go wherever I fancy and order whatever I want with absolutely no questions asked.

It led me to wonder if this is a common attitude amongst consumers, and how a change in this could help the climate crisis. By only being conscious at home, are we just being hypocrites?

Sustainable dining, Photo Credits: Unsplash

In a survey conducted by Pebble 61.9% of people claim that their weekly food shop is sustainable. An effort to try and buy locally sourced, in season, and reduce their consumption of animal produce seemed to be the consensus amongst most participants, reflecting this desire to help reverse the damage.

However, when it comes to the much-loved dining out, many of the self-proclaimed eco-conscious seem to forget the passion they once had when declining a plastic bag in Tesco’s yesterday. 41.3% said they never consider how sustainable the restaurant they are eating at is.

Only a measly 4.8% said they do consider this every time. One person explained that: “in my head it’s a treat, so I order whatever I want- at home I do try to eat sustainably though.” This mindset is very understandable- why should you care if it’s just an occasional treat?

Adults in the UK eat out on 2.4 billion occasions each year. It could be assumed that each of these occasions is also a treat for those dining- maybe a date, a birthday or a family get together. But, when you consider every person who does this, the collective impact is huge. With the climate crisis in a state of absolute emergency, sustainability is undoubtably something we must all consider as we go about our daily lives.

According to 350.org, an overwhelming 97% of scientists agree that climate change is being caused by human greenhouse gas emissions. Many even say we are 10 years away from the ‘point of no return’. Phrases like this are thrown around everywhere these days, making people ever-aware of the issue- it’s even arguably trendy these days to give a shit about the planet! Food consumption is an obvious area affecting sustainability to most.

A study run by WRAP found that the equivalent of 320 million meals is thrown away each year by British restaurants and cafes. That is enough to feed every person in the UK 5 times. This wasted food has an estimated cost of £2.5 billion a year, and it is believed that 75% of this food could have been eaten. When you consider that food waste is just one factor affecting restaurant sustainability, the issue seems even more colossal.

According to Open Table, there are 12 ways to make a restaurant more sustainable, including cooking what is in season, partnering with the right suppliers, considering energy use and reducing the use of animal products.

These concepts seem simple, but as Tom Tanner from the Sustainable Restaurants Association (SRA) says: “Restaurants were a bit slow off the market in getting involved with the sustainability conversation- not because they didn’t care about this stuff, but because a lot of restaurants were very busy people just working hard to put plates of food on the table.”

The SRA demonstrates an effort to better the industry. Started by two restaurateurs and two sustainability experts who had a shared vision in 2010, the organisation works to support restaurants to “help them be as sustainable as they can.”

Working with big brands such as Pizza Hut, Nando’s and Costa as well as local pubs and independent businesses, they certify and rate the establishments putting an “emphasis on action and rewarding sustainability.” Positive enforcement to encourage restaurants to be more sustainable is extremely promising to see, but even Tanner agrees that some responsibility lies with the consumers and advises steps such as taking any leftovers home to reduce waste (something alien to me, as leftovers rarely find themselves escaping my stomach!) 

You will be glad to hear that there are many restaurants leading the way with their sustainability efforts, such as Nando’s.

As someone very aware of the impact meat consumption can have on our planet, I was shocked to hear how sustainable the company strives to be despite the fact you can practically hear clucking when you walk past one of their stores!

Nando’s restaurant, Photo Credits: Unsplash

Head of Sustainability for the chain, Sam McCarthy, says: “Eating meat definitely has an impact on our planet and the climate crisis- that is why we are really conscious that we want to come out with a climate conscious, higher welfare target. We are really careful to make sure our chicken is sustainable.”

The company also aims to be net zero and have a 50% carbon reduction by 2030. “We are working really hard in the next 10 years to decarbonise our menu and that means we need to reduce the impact of our menu items by working with our supply chain,” he says. 

Perhaps your Nando’s is not so “cheeky” after all!

Nando’s wrap, Photo Credits: Unsplash

From what I can gather, the industry has a lot to tackle to become totally sustainable, but it is refreshing to see the foundations begin in many restaurants across the country. This does not mean you; the consumer should sit back and relax.

Ultimately, a huge amount of responsibility lies with customers due to basic supply and demand principles. When questioning a passionate ethical consumer herself, I discovered some aspirational attitudes from which I think we can all learn.

Theresa Houghton went vegan 12 years ago after learning how much animal agriculture impacted the planet. “When we do eat out, choosing more plant-based foods can have a big impact,” she says. “These meals tend to not only be healthier but also have lower environmental footprints. Every plant-based meal we buy shows restaurants that there is a demand.”

So, should I start eating solely vegan food from Nando’s, I hear you ask? The short answer is no.

Recognising the impact your choices could have seems a good place to start. From there, try to research the places you choose to eat at. Check for any sustainability ratings, the amount of veg based dishes on the menu and where their produce is sourced.

Don’t be shy to call and ask if the website isn’t obvious- I am sure any restaurant which holds good sustainable values would be delighted to answer enquiries. Take home a ‘doggy bag’ of leftovers. It is a win: win scenario with tonight’s enjoyment extended to tomorrows lunch whilst reducing food waste.

Leftover’s to take home, Photo Credits: Unsplash

Perhaps even be adventurous and try the vegetarian or vegan options- these days, the things available can be truly delicious and just as satisfying as meat.

By considering these things when that special occasion arises, your impact on the planet could be minimised greatly.