Sustainable eating is a pleasure and a responsibility. Many strategies to produce food with minimal environmental impact, such as using organic and local ingredients, also provide raw materials with superior flavor -- in part because sustainable alternatives to industrial food production involve producing foods on a smaller scale with greater care. Restaurants that take an environmental approach to purchasing and food-service operations can provide high quality products, market their offerings to environmentally concerned consumers and do genuine good for the planet.


To source ingredients sustainably, restaurants should learn as much as possible about their suppliers' production practices. Some suppliers make this easy to verify by obtaining certification for practices such as organic agriculture, fair trade or humane animal husbandry. Other environmental objectives are easy to verify even without certification, such as knowing that a neighboring farmer is growing ingredients locally. Despite the convenience of formal certification programs, many producers use sustainable practices without bothering to jump through certification hoops. Ask questions and take the time to visit farms and see sustainable practices for yourself.


For better or for worse, restaurants produce plenty of waste, from boxes and packaging materials, to food scraps trimmed during menu preparation to leftovers remaining on customers' plates. An environmentally conscious restaurant should set the goal of minimizing waste. Recycle boxes, cans and containers and, if possible, arrange with suppliers to deliver materials in boxes or crates that you can return to them. Use food scraps in stocks or other menu items and compost anything you can't transform into an edible product. Compost food waste from customers' plates as well.


Although many restaurant customers are accustomed to receiving a glass of water as soon as they sit down at a table and having that glass refilled frequently, your restaurant can reduce water waste by educating customers about the superfluousness of providing water that is often thrown away. Place cards on tables explaining that you are working to minimize water waste and will provide water on request. Reduce water waste in other areas of your restaurant operations by being conscious of dishwashing water use and installing low flow toilets.


Monitor your restaurant's energy use to use as little power as possible. Train employees to be conscientious about keeping cooler doors closed. Consolidate refrigerated ingredients during your slow season and unplug refrigerators you are not using. Don't bother heating your kitchen during the winter: The heat from cooking appliances is usually warm enough to maintain a comfortable working environment. Whenever possible, choose cooking techniques that take less energy. For example, it takes less gas to cook a stir fry than to prepare a roast.