A guide to sustainable catering practices

October 26, 2023

Implementing sustainable catering practices has many benefits. Not least, the fact that it will help reduce your environmental footprint, while also appealing to a growing market of consumers who place a lot of value on sustainability.

You’ll be able to help mitigate climate change, protect ecosystems and improve the quality of life for many. Necessary elements of sustainable catering are considering sourcing, reducing water usage, energy consumption, and waste. By conserving these, caterers not only reduce their operational costs but also contribute to the responsible management of finite natural resources.

In this guide, we explore how to adopt sustainable food catering and the reasons why it’s so important.

What is sustainability in the catering industry?

Sustainable food catering uses practices and principles that will reduce your company’s environmental, social, and economic impact. This means being able to meet consumer needs, while considering what your actions mean for the planet and for future generations.

Sustainable catering is about making responsible choices in various aspects of your business, from sourcing ingredients to food preparation and waste management. Ethical considerations also encompass fair labour practices, animal welfare, and support for local communities.

It is essential for everyone in this industry to take a thoroughly considered, holistic approach to conserving resources, in order to promote ethical practices throughout the catering supply chain.

Why is sustainability important in the catering industry?

Sustainability is essential in the catering industry for several reasons. As with any type of business, it fulfils environmental responsibilities, customer preferences, legal compliance, and long-term business success. It can’t be denied that caterers who prioritise sustainability are better positioned to thrive in a changing and environmentally conscious market. Research shows that at least 75-80% of consumers will choose sustainable businesses over those that are unsustainable. It goes without saying that being in the former category, favoured by the majority of those who have the final say in your success, makes your business much more resilient.

Crucially, however, this sector in particular needs increased focus on global responsibilities. This is because the food system is the second-largest contributor to greenhouse gases, after energy. If every sustainable catering company is more mindful about its choices, they’ll be doing their bit to try and lessen the damage caused by this industry, which releases 25-30% of global emissions. Food waste, for example, emits a large amount of the greenhouse gas methane, while also taking up a lot of landfill space.

There are also strict regulations and laws related to food safety, waste management, and environmental impact. Compliance with these regulations is essential to avoid fines and legal issues. Sustainability practices often involve building reliable supply chains too, which can help caterers navigate disruptions caused by factors like climate change or global events such as pandemics.

Operating with these ethics in mind is also important for public health, as truly sustainable food is more nutritious and won’t ever contain chemicals or pesticides. Therefore, healthier and more sustainable catering go hand in hand, which means both you and your customers can feel good about what they eat.

Lastly, adopting sustainability initiatives can boost employee morale and engagement. Many people prefer to work for companies that share their values and are committed to making a positive impact.

How can catering be more sustainable?

There are a number of ways you can develop a sustainable catering business, across key areas such as food production, transportation, energy consumption, and waste generation.

How can you introduce more sustainable catering practices?

By implementing these eco-friendly practices, UK caterers can contribute to environmental sustainability while also appealing to environmentally conscious customers.

Here are some sustainable catering practices you can consider.

Source locally, as much as possible

Use ingredients sourced from local UK farmers, growers and suppliers. This will reduce carbon emissions given off by long-distance transportation while supporting the local economy. It also allows you to use fresher ingredients that are both healthier and tastier.

Serve locally produced refreshments, too. Buying local wines, beers, and other beverages will support regional businesses and reduce transportation emissions.

Create seasonal menus to optimise local products

Design your menus around the seasons, using ingredients that are in season in your area. This reduces the need for energy-intensive storage and transportation. It also helps maintain customer interest in your services, encourages innovation, keeps your marketing relevant and compelling, and boosts your brand reputation.

Reduce food waste as much as possible

Make sure you’re clued up when it comes to your food waste reduction strategies. There are different ways you can do this effectively, such as accurately estimating guest numbers, using proper storage methods, and controlling portion sizes.

Your business must have a thorough recycling and composting system in place. In order to properly manage waste and divert it from landfills, sustainable catering involves a continuous, daily commitment to disposal.

You can also consider donating surplus food to local food banks or allowing employees and clients to take it home.

Choose seafood with the sustainability stamp

Choose seafood options that are certified as sustainable, by organisations such as the Marine Conservation Society. Look for labels like MSC (Marine Stewardship Council), which are the seal of approval for responsible sourcing.

Offer plant-based options

Of course, it makes good business sense to cater to the growing demand for plant-based diets. Not only that, but it will lower your environmental impact if you serve a variety of vegetarian and vegan menu choices. Putting too much focus on meat-based options can be bad news, as the meat and dairy industries account for 14.5% of the world’s man-made CO2 emissions.

Use biodegradable materials

When it comes to tableware, stay well away from single-use items, such as those made from plastic, as much as possible. If you can’t invest in reusable products, opt for biodegradable or compostable plates, utensils, and packaging, in materials such as bamboo, cornstarch, or sugarcane.

Extend this mindset to your decor, too. Use sustainable, reusable decorations, tablecloths, and centrepieces. Minimising waste from your table settings, as well as from the food you serve, further mitigates your environmental impact.

Use energy-efficient appliances

Invest in energy-efficient cooking and refrigeration equipment, ensuring that they’re properly maintained, to reduce energy consumption and lower your carbon footprint. Using LED lighting also supports a greener approach, which will reduce your energy bills too.

Get catering business insurance with Protectivity

Growing a sustainable catering business requires you to think practically when it comes to your long-term planning. While you’re dividing your focus between day-to-day activities and taking your company to the next level, it’s essential to invest in the right catering insurance to take care of your finances if things go wrong.

Protectivity’s Catering Insurance offers a range of options to suit your business. Our Public Liability offers up to £5 million of cover, in the event that a member of the public brings a claim against you. Whether someone is injured or their property is damaged, you can breathe a little easier with a policy designed to alleviate your legal costs. You can also opt to add on the Products Liability, with this extension offering cover for claims that arise from third-party products and goods. If you’d also like Commercial Legal Protection, this includes a Legal Helpline service and cover for a range of business issues.

Get an instant tailored quote for a catering insurance policy that suits your needs. If you’ve any questions at all, get in touch with our friendly team.

This blog has been created as general information and should not be taken as advice. Make sure you have the correct level of insurance for your requirements and always review policy documentation.