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Sustainable Planet, Sustainable Business: Connecting the Food System and Commercial Kitchens of the Future

The country's move toward a more sustainable food system will impact kitchen design and foodservice equipment specification in the future.

We've reached a point where you might hear "sustainability" or "sustainable" every single day. But amidst our almost automatic use of those words, it's easy to forget what sustainability really means. And, what it means in business.

Merriam-Webster defines sustainable as "a method of harvesting or using a resource so that resource is not depleted or permanently damaged." We know that can relate to agricultural harvesting practices, fishing and the use of natural resources like gas, oil and water. In foodservice, the word brings with it many connotations, from energy efficiency, green and eco on one spectrum to business growth, perseverance, competitive advantage and reducing costs on the other. In a foodservice sense, sustainability means two things: preserving our businesses for future generations and preserving our planet. By reducing the strain we put on our environment we inevitably reduce the strain on our businesses in terms of costs, and the relationship works in the reverse as well. In that sense, business sustainability and environmental sustainability become interchangeable.

"Sustainable food is a means of producing and consuming food so that it supports the long-term wellness of our planet and ourselves," says John Turenne, president of foodservice consulting firm Sustainable Food Systems. Turenne also served as executive chef at Yale University for almost 10 years and played an integral role in the renowned Yale Sustainable Food Project, which helped turn the Ivy League school's foodservice program into one of the leading sustainable foodservice operations in the country. "Commercial kitchens have a responsibility to be part of that movement."

Finally, we've reached that threshold where sustainability in the food and agriculture world is beginning to intersect with the foodservice equipment and supplies world. As a result of current and future changes to our food supply, the kitchen of the future will look a lot different from the ones of generations past and present.

This is the result of a perfect storm of factors simultaneously coming together: consumers want to eat more healthy; chefs want to support their local farms and serve fresher, seasonal food; energy, water, waste and food costs continue to rise; and developers want to cut back on the amount of space kitchens consume. In fact, changes in our food system — and on a larger scale, in our agricultural and meat production systems — already affect supply and demand in the foodservice equipment and supplies industry and will only continue to do so.

Facility makes up just one spoke of the wheel in a sustainable food program, according to Turenne's model. The rest (food and products, community, communication, and fiscal and nutritional well-being) all need to be part of that picture in even balance if that wheel of change — and of business — is to turn.