Is new restaurant body really sustainable?

The Sustainable Restaurant Association is open for business. And it's easy to get a seat at the table...

Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

The SRA, which launched last night, aims to make members of as many of the UK's 30,000 restaurants as possible. To do so they have to satisfy the SRA's sustainability criteria in 14 areas, ranging from sustainable ingredients to waste management, and including such measures as dishing out doggy bags, serving veg, and installing waterless urinals.

Sounds like an admirable venture. And not just because any restaurant that signs up qualifies for a free sticker. Displaying the official ‘we're at the table' logo in the window is a sign you're on the road to sustainability - you just have to satisfy more of the criteria each year to stay in. Call it a course-by-course approach to cleaning up your act, rather than trying to shovel the whole sustainability thing down your throat in one go.

Extra kudos goes to any member that pays for an audit, which will examine their sustainability in detail and dish out gold, silver and bronze marks as a measure of their commitment to the cause. They may or may not also qualify for an extra dollop of fair-trade ice-cream.  

But the Association, the brainchild of Henry Dimbleby of Leon, restaurateur Mark Sainsbury, and Giles Gibbons of green consultant Good Business, has drawn some criticism - not least that in being so keen to encourage membership it's actually set the bar far too low to be of any use.

It does look pretty easy. All you need to get in is to tick three criteria out of over 100, and as these include offering tap water, sticking a charity collection tin on the counter, and providing a vegetarian option, the Association is hardly in the Ivy's league of exclusivity.

Eyebrows have already been raised that McDonald's would have no trouble qualifying for membership, but we reckon that's actually missing the point: McDonald's is actually ahead of many of its rivals in the sustainability department, using free range eggs, organic milk, recycle paper and waterless urinals among other sustainable staples.

In fact it's hard to imagine a restaurant that wouldn't qualify under the current criteria. The SRA is arguing that such inclusivity is good, and that the likes of KFC and Pizza Hut would have to do more than simply turn up eating their greens to be able to progress to those more significant gold, silver and bronze marks.

But will they care? We can't help thinking they'd be happy to settle for that window sticker. Being 'at the table' would be enough to satisfy their pangs for good PR.

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Is new restaurant body really sustainable?

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