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The CO2 outputs of restuarants

Written by
Poppy Stringer
6
min read
November 20, 2023

In a world increasingly conscious of its carbon footprints, the spotlight is now turning towards an industry that's been sizzling in the background - restaurants.

Beyond thinking about the mouth-watering aromas, delectable dishes, and unique cocktails, restaurant owners are looking at the environmental impact of their own hotspots.

As we dive into this culinary journey, we'll unveil the surprising CO2 outputs, uncovering how your business choices might be leaving a bigger mark on the planet than you'd expect.

We’ll explore:

  • How to Categorising Carbon Emissions via Scopes
  • The Average Scope per Restaurant
  • How Restaurants can Reduce their Emissions

Categorising CO2 footprints

CO2 emissions can be put into 3 categories known as ‘Scopes’. These allow a business to categorise the different kinds of carbon emissions it generates within its own operations and within its wider value chain.

Scope 1

This is the direct GreenHouse Gas emissions (often referred to as GHGs) that a company makes from operations that are owned or controlled by the company itself. An example of this is the natural gas that is burned to power the stoves, ovens and other kitchen equipment within a restaurant.

Scope 2

These are the emissions made indirectly in the running of the company, such as purchased electricity, heating, lighting or cooling an office, or factory.  

Scope 3

This is the big one, it relates to the indirect emissions generated by the business. For most businesses, Scope 3 accounts for more than 70% of their carbon and that is why it is crucial it is calculated and can then be dealt with.

Average restaurant emission scopes

Whilst this varies as restaurants' practices and policies are all different the rough percentages and a breakdown of the emissions are given below;  

Scope 1: Between 15-20%

  • Natural gas usage: Roughly 2-5 tonnes of CO2 per year, accounting for about 10-15% of total emissions.
  • Propane or other fuel usage: Approximately 1-3 tonnes of CO2 per year, making up around 5-10% of total emissions.
  • Refrigerant leaks: Varies significantly but might be around 0.5-2 tonnes of CO2 per year, contributing to roughly 2-5% of total emissions.

Scope 2: Anywhere from 10-30%

  • Electricity usage: On average a small business will use between 15,000- 25,000 kWh of energy a year whilst a medium to large business will use 25,000- 50,000 kWh of energy a year.

Scope 3: Often 70% and above

Broadly speaking these can be broken down for restaurants into the following categories:

  1. Food supply chain: Highly variable but can range from 100-300 tonnes of CO2 per year, accounting for about 20-30% of total emissions.
  2. Waste management: Depending on waste reduction efforts, it could be around 10-30 tonnes of CO2 per year, contributing to roughly 5-10% of total emissions.
  3. Employee and customer travel: Varies based on location and number of customers/employees but can range from 5-20 tonnes of CO2 per year, making up around 5-10% of total emissions.
  4. Supply chain and procurement: Varies significantly based on types and sources of materials but might be around 5-20 tonnes of CO2 per year, accounting for about 5-10% of total emissions.

These emissions are often the most substantial for restaurants, accounting for over 70% of total restaurant emissions.

The two most important criteria when looking at a restaurant's CO2 emissions are the ‘food supply chain’ and ‘waste management’.

Food Supply Chain Emissions

These emissions encompass the entire lifecycle of food and ingredients.

  • Agricultural Emissions: Emissions generated during crop cultivation and livestock raising.
  • Transportation Emissions: Emissions from moving food and ingredients from farms and suppliers to the restaurant.
  • Processing and Packaging Emissions: Emissions associated with processing and packaging food items.
  • Storage and Refrigeration Emissions: Energy use and emissions related to food storage.

Waste Management Emissions

Emissions related to food waste that occurs before reaching the restaurant.

  • Food waste: Emissions from disposing of food that is not consumed.
  • Packaging materials: Emissions from waste generated by packaging materials.
  • Other restaurant waste: Emissions from the disposal of other waste streams produced during the restaurant’s daily operations.
  • Waste transportation: Emissions from transporting waste to disposal facilities (e.g., landfills or incinerators).

While there can be some overlap, it’s important to differentiate between these two categories. “Food Supply Chain Emissions” relate to the broader carbon footprint of sourcing and transporting ingredients, while “Waste Management Emissions” focus on waste generated within the restaurant itself. Both areas offer opportunities for reducing a restaurant’s overall carbon footprint.

How restaurants can reduce their emissions

Restaurants can take various steps to reduce their carbon emissions and operate more sustainably. Here are five ways a restaurant can reduce its carbon emissions.

  1. Improve energy efficiency
    Upgrade to energy-efficient appliances and kitchen equipment to reduce electricity and gas consumption.
    Install LED lighting and motion sensors to optimize lighting use.
    Maintain and regularly service HVAC systems to ensure they operate efficiently.
  2. Source sustainable ingredients
    Prioritise locally sourced and seasonal ingredients to reduce the carbon footprint associated with transportation.
    Choose organic and sustainably produced ingredients to support environmentally friendly farming practices.
    Consider plant-based menu options to reduce the carbon emissions associated with meat and dairy production.
  3. Reduce food waste
    Implement portion control and food waste reduction strategies to minimise the amount of food that ends up in the trash.
    Compost food scraps to divert organic waste from landfills and reduce methane emissions.
    Train staff to manage inventory efficiently and track expiration dates.
  4. Optimise transportation
    Encourage employees to use public transportation, carpool, or bike to work to reduce their carbon footprint.
    Use energy-efficient delivery vehicles if the restaurant offers delivery services.
    Minimise unnecessary trips for ingredient and supply deliveries through efficient scheduling
  5. Reduce, reuse, and recycle
    Minimise single-use plastics and opt for eco-friendly, reusable, or recyclable packaging.
    Implement a recycling program and provide recycling bins for customers.
    Consider ways to up-cycle or repurpose food waste and other materials within the restaurant.

These steps are just a starting point, and each restaurant's journey toward reducing carbon emissions will be unique based on its specific circumstances and priorities. Regularly monitoring and assessing emissions, setting emission reduction targets, and engaging with employees and customers about sustainability can also play a vital role in achieving more sustainable restaurant operations.  

In Conclusion

The world of restaurants, with all its culinary delights, also holds a significant role in our planet's carbon footprint. As we've journeyed through this exploration, it's clear that the CO2 outputs of restaurants go far beyond the confines of their kitchens.

From farm to table, from the ingredients' origins to the waste produced, every aspect of the restaurant industry impacts our environment. The good news is that as awareness grows, so does the commitment of many restaurants to reduce their carbon emissions. Initiatives like sourcing local, sustainable ingredients, implementing energy-efficient practices, and reducing food waste are steps in the right direction.

As conscientious diners, we also have a role to play. By choosing restaurants that prioritise sustainability and supporting their efforts, we can contribute to a more eco-friendly dining culture.

Poppy Stringer

Our eco-conscious blog writer. Passionate about sustainability, she's on a mission to combat ecosystem decline with insightful blogs, driven by her concern for the planet's future.