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National Restaurant Association - Industry vet McKerrow, Conserve director speak on sustainability

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Industry vet McKerrow, Conserve director speak on sustainability

Practicing sustainability can be challenging, but if you stay true to your goals, employees and customers, success can be achieved, said Jeff Clark, program director for the National Restaurant Association’s Conserve Sustainability Education Program.

Clark, who addressed the issue of sustainability at the Atlanta Foodservice Expo Oct. 20, shared the podium with George McKerrow Jr., co-founder and CEO of the Ted’s Montana Grill restaurant chain, during a presentation entitled “Eating the Eco-Elephant in the Room: Bite-sized Steps to an Earth-friendly Restaurant”. Both McKerrow and Clark shared tips and strategies on how to practice sustainability effectively and efficiently.

McKerrow, who started the 44-unit Ted’s Montana Grill concept in 2002 with business partner and environmentalist Ted Turner, said sustainability is one of the four business pillars inherent at Ted’s and that everyone from the employers to the customers love it.

“At Ted’s, we live and breathe [sustainability],” he said. “I’ll tell you one thing: if you’re an employer, your employees will love it. If customers are coming through your business, they’ll love it. It’s the right thing to do and you can achieve some benefits from it. Just don’t tell people you’re doing something you’re not.”

ccording to the NRA’s Clark, the key to achieving success is authenticity. He told attendees that operators planning to implement sustainability programs into their business plans should focus on honest communication with employees and customers.

“You’ve got to be authentic and you’ve got to be truthful,” he said. “In this day and age where employees are posting photos on Facebook and videos and all kinds of things, if you say you’re practicing sustainability, but you’re not being truthful to a real sustainable push, you’ll be found out and that is really bad for business. It’s bad for the industry and it won’t help you in any way. What it will do is hurt your brand.”

Clark added that operators should incorporate their sustainability stories into their business plans, and focus on just one or two things to begin. They then should track their results and revise them when necessary.

“You’ve got to track your progress,” he said. “You can’t fix what you can’t measure.” And when it’s time to revisit and revise your plan, he added, it is important to note whether “the actions you’re taking are still relevant to the market or if the technology has changed. And also make sure your ‘story’ is still relevant, too. If not, you must change with the market as the market changes.”

One easy thing operators can focus on is conserving water by installing pre-rinse spray valves at their establishments.
“This is a really good example of some low-hanging fruit,” he said. “They cost about $70 each, take 5 minutes to install and they save a lot of money.”

McKerrow, in addressing the strides the industry has taken to date, said he is pleased with the progress made, but stressed there is more to do.

“I’m so impressed with what our industry has done,” he said. “We have come so far. But as good as we’ve been … we have to make significant improvements to create cleaner water, cleaner air and a happier earth. The truth is, if everyone starts with one thing, we can make a difference.”

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