Sustainability & foodservice: Tips for reducing your carbon footprint & appealing to conscious consumers

Every year, 133 billion pounds of food (worth over $161 billion) goes to waste in the United States. Out of that number, 22 to 33 billion pounds of food waste originates from restaurants, and an additional seven to eleven billion pounds comes from schools, hotels, and hospitals.

Besides the high financial cost, food waste creates another problem kitchens have to deal with—a high carbon footprint. And as more and more customers become concerned with environmental issues, kitchens that can’t actively lower their carbon footprints stand to lose the patronage of customers who prefer to support more environmentally aware organizations.

Luckily, foodservice operations have multiple ways to reduce their carbon footprints while saving costs and appealing to increasingly conscious consumers. Here are a few ways they can accomplish these goals.

Tip #1: Offer more meatless menu items

Although meat consumption continues to rise in the US by 1% per year, the popularity of meatless meals and meat alternatives continues to rise as well—and at a much higher rate.

According to Food Dive, the retail sales of plant-based foods amounted to 7 billion dollars in 2020. This represents a 27% increase in growth compared to the previous year—a rate that outperforms organic produce, which grew by a respectable 14.2% in 2020.

Here’s what we can gather from this trend: An increasing number of customers want to reduce their meat consumption, and they’ll choose to patronize restaurants and kitchens that appeal to their preferences.   

So, what’s the good news? Well, restaurants don’t have to look far for inspiration. Entire cuisines—such as Indian, Mexican, Korean, and Mediterranean—lean heavily on meatless meals. In many cases, these cuisines already enjoy a high level of popularity with customers. Modifying dishes from these cooking lineages offers a great way to appeal to conscious consumers while fending off the competition.

For kitchens looking to decrease their carbon footprint and appeal to changing customer preferences, doubling down on meatless options offers a win-win scenario.

For more simple recipes that you can adapt for your kitchen, check out Jayme Oliver’s new book Ultimate Veg.

Tip #2: Reduce food waste

As we hinted at before, reducing food waste represents one of the most effective ways for foodservice operations to reduce their carbon footprints. Kitchens can accomplish this goal by focusing on several areas:

  • Prevent ingredients from spoiling
  • Recycle un-eaten food from guests through composting
  • Donate leftover grab-and-go inventory
  • Track prep ingredient waste to reduce it further

Composting, donating, or discounting un-touched grab-and-go items using apps like Too Good To Go significantly reduce food waste. But one of the most effective ways to reduce food waste is by implementing an effective food prep labeling system.

NCCO offers a variety of food safety labels and solutions that can nip food waste in the bud—allowing kitchens to save both money and time in the process.

For a more analog approach to prep labeling, DateIt™ Food Rotation Labels work exceptionally well. These labels come in various sizes, shapes, and adhesive types. They allow kitchen teams to easily distinguish which bins contain which ingredients, and they also include space to record information such as shelf life, expiration date, prep date, and so on.

Some of our most popular labels include the 2″ × 2″ Item/Date/Use By DuraPeel™ Labels and our .75″ circle removable day of the week labels.

And for a more technical, automated labelling solution, there’s the DateCodeGenie®, which allows kitchens to print everything from food prep labels to labels for delivery orders, grab-and-go containers, and retail items.

Whether a kitchen chooses DateIt labels or the DateCodeGenie, either option helps reduce food waste while bringing uniformity and simplicity to the food prep labeling system. That’s good news for the environment and the annual budget.

Tip #3: Practice & support composting initiatives

In the US, food waste creates the equivalent of 32.6 million cars’ worth of greenhouse gas emissions each year. Naturally, restaurants contributed to that statistic, but they can significantly cut back on that number by advocating for and practicing composting.

Restaurants can start composting by replacing plastic cutlery and food containers with biodegradable alternatives—now widely available throughout the US. Kitchens can also start compost heaps on site or participate in government composting initiatives.  

While those options offer good places to start, foodservice operations can make an impact that’s many times more powerful than individual action by lobbying their local governments for widespread composting programs.

If one restaurant practices composting, it makes a small difference. But if every restaurant, in addition to cafes, schools, hospitals, and caterers, participates in a compost program, the difference increases astronomically.

As pillars of the community, foodservice operations can petition local leaders to emphasize widespread composting programs. Getting involved in this way sends a message to conscious consumers—”We share your values, and we’re doing what we can to prove that.”

Tip #4: Close the loop with reusable cups & containers

We’ve all seen pictures of those mountains of trash in landfills. And it’s safe to say that single-use containers, cups and lids make up a respectable portion of those unsightly heaps. 

But what if foodservice operations had a way to give guests their morning coffee without the single-use cups and lids? Well, there is a way.

In the US and the UK, big retailers such as Starbucks and McDonald’s are already piloting reusable cup and lid programs.

How do these reusable programs work? Like all standard single-use items, customers receive a reusable cup and lid when they order a drink. These reusables look and function the same as single-use items, but they’re a bit sturdier. Once a customer finishes their drink, they can deposit the cup and lid into a sealed collection bin at the store during their next visit.

From there, a third party—such as TerraCycle, the developer of the reusable cup and lid—will collect the returned containers, clean them, and redistribute them to the retailers. Again, these cups feel and function like typical single-use containers and can even include custom branding and print. But instead of ending up in a landfill, these cups close the loop. And so far, this approach seems to work.

As part of McDonald’s reusable cup pilot program in the UK, customers pick up a reusable Loop cup after making a small deposit, which they receive back by returning the cup to McDonald’s later on. To Jenny McColloch, McDonald’s VP of Global Sustainability, reusable cups aren’t just a matter of reducing consumption. They’re a way to improve the quality of the customer experience. No matter your thoughts on the environment, every business should be interested in that.

With sustainability & other everyday foodservice challenges, we have solutions

Whether you decide to try all the methods listed above or just a few of them, know that NCCO is here to support you to the best of our ability. As a longtime innovator, NCCO offers products—such as our DateIt food prep labels and DateCodeGenie automated labelling system—that can help kitchens directly combat food waste and lower their carbon footprint.

For more information on the solutions mentioned above or other everyday foodservice solutions, please contact a member of our team by visiting

As foodservice challenges continue to evolve, we’re here to assist you in evolving too.


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