Leon, the international chain of healthy fast food restaurants, is making radical changes to its business model in a bid to be more sustainable.
The company, which boasts 52 outlets, today unveiled ambitious plans to oust plastic from all its restaurants, drastically reduce the amount of red meat in its recipes and move away from fossil fuels.
Speaking to MT today, co-founder John Vincent admitted that replacing plastic straws with paper varieties and moving to compostable cutlery would lead to a 30% increase in costs.
He added: 'All the stores, in which we control the energy purchasing, now run on solar or wind power. That has also meant a further 30% increase in bills.'
The move will heap extra financial pressure on the chain at a time when many rivals are being driven out of business. 'Property prices have been inflated by the asset bubble, rates have gone up so far it’s unreal…' said Vincent. 'The UK restaurant industry has become uneconomical. We are one of the few winners in the industry.'
According to the 46-year-old entrepreneur, trading some profitability in pursuit of a healthier planet is a worthy trade-off. 'We used to say at Leon, "Do the right thing, not the easy thing". Now we say, "Make the right thing the easy thing".'
Vincent said that business leaders have an obligation to the next generation to build more sustainable businesses. 'They won’t thank us if we don’t.'
He also slammed the government for its lack of guidance on sustainability. 'I’d like to sit down with Michael Gove [Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] and ask him how we can balance the nutritional needs of the individual with the environmental needs of the planet and the financial needs of the economy,' he said. 'The government needs to come up with a coordinated plan.'
Vincent called the government’s views on sustainable business,'outdated', claiming that businesses are encouraged to work out how to make money first and consider the environment second.
'If we were a Brazilian tribe, we wouldn’t poison our rainforest, kill all the birds and chop down the trees, then go to a charity event and buy a shirt signed by Jonny Wilkinson to make ourselves feel better,' he said.
Leon’s new sustainable strategy was devised in partnership with John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace, the environmental charity, and Dr Robert Verkerk, founder of the Alliance for Natural Health.
Leon, which was founded in 2004 by Vincent and food campaigner Henry Dimbleby, opened 10 restaurants last year and plans to open a further 12 in 2018. The chain, which has three stores in the Netherlands, is poised to open its first branch stateside, in Washington DC, following significant delays. It will also launch its first outlet in Norway.
Image credit: Leon