Sustainability and its attainment is one of the most important challenges of our time. Ever since the Brundtland Report popularised the concept of sustainable development, communities around the globe have been confronting how to balance the needs of humanity for consumption of resources with the finite limits of the environment and considerations of social equity and well-being. The hospitality industry has engaged with these issues through efforts at corporate social responsibility, greening agendas and sustainability initiatives. Simultaneously, restaurants and cafes around the world have offered creative initiatives and models of best practice which have spread, multiplied and evolved starting arguably from when Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse in 1971 in Berkeley, California and drew attention to “the political consequences of personal eating habits” (Johnston & Baumann, 2015:8-9).
To open this report we offer a brief overview of sustainability before explaining how it applies to the restaurant sector. The Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) defines sustainability as “restaurants managing the social and environmental impacts of their operations” (Sustainable Restaurant Association, n.d.). We use the triple bottom line approach to explore how sustainability can be enacted in terms of environmental, economic and social sustainability. We also offer a brief consideration of key ethical issues, including fair trade and animal welfare. These opening remarks are intended to offer a context for understanding the 20 case studies that we offer as a result of our year-long research project.
These 20 case studies were gathered from research undertaken in Adelaide and Goolwa in South Australia, and Melbourne, Victoria, supported by funding from the Le Cordon Bleu‒ University of South Australia 2014 grants scheme. This research project represents an expansion of a 2011 pilot study conducted with one restaurateur exploring the way he used his sustainable café to foster an engagement with sustainability amongst all the café’s stakeholders.
Using a semi-structured interview technique, we interviewed 20 restaurateurs and chefs who were recognised by the food media or by experts as pioneers in aspects of sustainability. We interviewed under the understanding that contributions would not be anonymous and we requested permission to attribute quotes to interviewees (with the option for them to preview all such quotes in advance of publication). Restaurants were selected through purposive sampling based on expert recognition of the enterprise as a site of sustainable practice and/or membership in associations like Green Table, the Sustainable Table and Cittaslow Goolwa. Interview data was supplemented with primary and secondary data and participant observation. We employed a qualitative approach in the interviews to elicit narratives enabling rich insights into what their experiences can tell us about the influence of sustainable eateries on public awareness, participation in sustainability, and how this might contribute to urban place-making and destination branding as a result of the restaurants’ profile and activities.
The case studies feature a large number of commercial enterprises that have been operating for varying lengths of time. There are also a smaller number of social enterprises represented. Amongst the 20 case studies, some have a specific focus, such as fostering models of zero waste, embodying the locavore movement or animal welfare ethics, while others are striving to achieve a balance across all three measures of the triple bottom line standard. They all have interesting stories to share and we offer our case studies here as one source of sharing.
These cases are organised by geographical location:
- Adelaide: Sarah’s Sister’s Sustainable Cafe, The Organic Market and Café, Red Lime Shack, Café Troppo, Good Life Modern Organic Pizza, Locavore, Co-op Coffee Shop, Nove on Luce, Etica and Experience Cafe.
- Goolwa: The Australasian Circa 1858, Bombora, Motherduck and Rankines at The Whistle Stop.
- Melbourne: Lentil As Anything, STREAT, Charcoal Lane, Brothl, Mesa Verde and The Grain Store.
Finally, we offer some assessment of the significance of these practices and highlight some recommendations that arise from their experiences and example.
One final important result is the realisation that further research is vital to fully understand the contributions that restaurants and cafes are making to efforts to promote and achieve sustainability. We hope this report will inspire other researchers to continue this work and add to our understanding of the significance of hospitality leaders in fostering engagement with transitions to sustainability. More importantly, with pressures of climate change and human impacts on the environment, we note that more restaurants need to be encouraged and enabled to participate in sustainability initiatives and we offer these exemplary examples as inspiration.