Forward-thinking foodies: a look at sustainable hospitality and carbon neutral restaurants

Andrei Lussmann and his team at Pub in the Park.

Andrei Lussmann and his team at Pub in the Park. - Credit: Striking Places Ltd

In the wake of discussions about climate change at COP26 in Glasgow, local restaurateur Andrei Lussmann has announced ambitious plans to be carbon neutral by the end of 2023.

Andrei, who founded his eponymous restaurant group 20 years ago on principles of sustainability, has four restaurants in Hertfordshire, including St Albans and Harpenden.

"I am very pleased that COP26 has brought issues of climate change into mainstream conversations,” he said. “Obviously this subject is very close to my heart; I have modelled my business on sustainability for the past two decades, but I am always very aware that I don’t want to preach.

“However, I feel like I should talk about this crucially important subject, and my aim for carbon neutrality.”

Lussmanns has already won numerous industry awards for its sustainability measures, which include ethically sourcing its food.

It is a founding member of the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA), and one of a limited number of restaurant groups currently in the UK to be completely MSC-friendly (a kite-mark from an organisation which exists to protect oceans and safeguard seafood supplies for the future).

Lussmanns’ energy is green and renewable and its packaging is all compostable –when it launched its Food to Go service in the lockdown period, it opted for fully recyclable packaging, even though, with more than 500,000 meals delivered, the non-sustainable route would have been a considerably cheaper option.

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“Every choice we make as individuals does affect the environment,” said Andrei, “and this extends to which businesses we choose to interact with. If you choose to eat out at a sustainable restaurant, you know that you are doing your bit to combat climate change, albeit in a small way.”

This includes the mucky subject of dealing with waste ethically. Lussmanns recycles all of its waste, so none goes to landfill. Most is recycled by being anaerobically digested, which produces fuel to heat homes.

However the restaurant group is also donating waste to a number of scientists and research bodies, including Rothamsted Enterprises in Harpenden, which is conducting research looking into deriving bioplastics from restaurant waste.

Farr Brew's The Elephant and Castle.

Farr Brew's The Elephant and Castle. - Credit: Farr Brew

Local independent brewery and pub group Farr Brew, agrees that sustainable practices are crucial in 2021 and it also disposes of its waste sustainably.

“Our waste water is used as a fertiliser on the farm in which our barn sits, and our waste hops are used by local community ventures as mulch and composting material,” said founder Nick Farr.

“Our waste grain is also used by the local farmer to feed his livestock which makes up part of our menu in several sites. And we think it’s important to help community projects where we can, and local food gardening organisations.”

Farr Brew, which has six pubs across Herts and Beds, as well as the brewery, also ensures its packaging is 100 per cent recyclable, and sources as locally as possible.

“Our hops are predominantly British varieties and the honey used in our beer is produced by the bees flying around the barn where the microbrewery is in Wheathampstead,” said Nick’s business partner Matt Elvidge.

“It has just always felt right to use local produce wherever possible, but now we know so much more about the issue of climate change and the contributory factors to this, we should all be doing whatever we can to run our businesses sustainably. We should all be looking at the energy we use, our packaging, our waste.”

New vegan takeaway business Mungo’s Kitchen launched a few months ago in lockdown and being eco-friendly is a key part of its ethos.

“All of our packaging is compostable or made from recycled paper, even the smoothie cups, straws and stickers! Sugar cane pulp packaging is great because it can go straight into the food waste bin to be composted” says Mungo’s Kitchen founder and chef, Mark Flanagan.

“We’ve also carefully picked the most eco-friendly suppliers who use a minimal amount of packaging and source products from as locally as possible. And we buy organic where we can, as that eliminates the number of chemicals used to grow the crops, as these are damaging to our ecosystem.”

Sustainable packaging from Mungo's Kitchen.

Sustainable packaging from Mungo's Kitchen. - Credit: Mungo's Kitchen

However, the biggest sustainable tick for Mungo’s Kitchen is the fact it offers vegan food.

“We’ve known about the health benefits of a vegan diet to the individual for some time,” says mark, but now we are learning more about how good it is for the environment.”

In fact recent research suggests that eating a vegan diet could be the single biggest single way to reduce your environmental impact on Earth, and being carbon neutral has become the latest buzz-word for being sustainable, but what does this really mean, and how achievable is it?

“Put simply it means that you reduce the net amount of carbon dioxide you are responsible for releasing into the Earth’s atmosphere, which is of course very damaging,” said Andrei Lussmann.

“What we are now trying to do is look at our whole business holistically and make sure that we are doing everything within our power to create a net zero carbon footprint. For example, beef production is one of the biggest carbon footprint culprits, so some time ago I reduced the beef options on our menu from four to just one, and this has made a huge difference to our footprint.”

Lussmanns’ future objective is to be the one of the UK’s first completely carbon neutral restaurant groups, and the first one in Hertfordshire, by the end of 2023, which is a challenging target, especially after the battering the hospitality industry has taken over the past 18 months.

“We have to be ambitious though don’t we?” added Andrei. “After all there is a clock ticking here, and there is no more important issue on the planet.”