The following sustainability guidelines (they’re not rules, unless approved standards or regulations exist) are typically used to create a design framework to help sort and filter ingredients appropriate to the goals of the menu. The most important thing they have in common is that they are measurable.

You’re likely already familiar with them.  They include:

Impact

For the majority of foods, impact is measured by the type and volume of ‘inputs’ (energy, water, feed, chemicals, etc) needed to produce and/or harvest them along with the intensity of those processes (production cycles, feed-lots, trawling, etc). The protocols developed by third-party certification associations. including Certified Organic ? and OceanWise ?are helpful in researching parameters, but they don’t cover it all.  For example, a local greenhouse-grown cucumber, with heat/light energy added, would have more total impact than a local field-grown variety; however, organic inputs aside, that local greenhouse cuke will likely have lower impact than an import.

Distance

Typically, the number of kilometres the product has travelled (‘food miles’) to your kitchen door, added to or multiplying the energy/resource consumption of its mode of transportation (air, ship, refrigerated truck, etc). Information on regional, single-producer sources is usually available by request, Commodity suppliers, who often combine multiple production sources in one order, can make it tough to pin down total distances. Another undervalued option in tracking and reducing distance is bio-regional supply, especially in Canada; products from growing areas just across the border could and often should be considered ‘local.’ 

Materials

In this instance, the materials are those used for the packaging (also subject to their own impact and transport analysis) used to preserve and protect products during transport, and which must be recycled, or disposed of, by the operation and its regional facilities. For example, as a result of pressure from operators and municipal recyclers in recent years, readily recyclable or reusable containers have all but eliminated the once-standard Styrofoam bins used to ship fish and seafood. The global impact of these materials and related processes is being aggressively addressed by advocates of a ‘circular economy.’? 

Just as there is no surefire formula to create a popular menu dish, there isn’t any blanket formula that can prove exactly how much, or little, a conventionally-grown local carrot improves the sustainability of your dish more than an organic import.

While protocols and standards are mission-critical to certain food sectors (e.g. fish & seafood), in foodservice the measurable value of sustainability goals flow from the relationships ‘built in’ to daily operations.

And you won’t be surprised to learn that, as with many other things, location matters. The smartest and easiest future-proof decisions are always relative to where you are (e.g. proximity to land and sea resources) and how those decisions contribute to the sustainability of your community.

Many more guidelines are upcoming. And for a deeper dive into the relative impacts of menu ingredients, have a look at items 2 and 3 on the References + Resources page.

For now, based on what you’ve just read (and where you’re at), drag and drop four menu items into the Most Sustainable crate.