Opinion: Dean Murphy

F&B operations must adopt a sustainability-first mindset
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The responsibility of creating a sustainable and eco-conscious F&B industry cannot be swept under the carpet with token efforts. Operators — large and small — must step up to the plate and acknowledge that impacting the present is the key to shaping the future.

Today’s restaurant and catering industry landscape requires leaders determined to truly steer the market’s future and encourage greater conversation and conversion. The appetite for conscientious consumption is increasing around us, yet operators have been slow on the uptake.  Greater efforts must be taken to penetrate the mass market. More must be done to implement initiatives that will yield a lasting impact. Tomorrow is no longer an option; we must act today.

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Having worked in Dubai’s hospitality sector for more than 10 years, it still shocks me when operators believe it is OK to make small gestures that half-tick sustainability boxes in their CSR policies. It’s true there are a few who are fully engaged and leading by example, but the vast majority must readdress their strategy and take measures that drive social change.

Prioritising sustainability must not be about ‘out-sustaining’ competitors or making headlines. Far from it. As a collective, we must not underestimate the influence we carry in affecting consumer behavioural change. We must embrace our position as game-changers.

For many operators, a supposedly inadequate sustainable supply chain is a self-imposed barrier on sustainability initiatives. This is an outdated view and, put simply, no longer the case. Yes, the region is still in its infancy when it comes to sustainable suppliers, however, operators need to take greater responsibility because suppliers with sustainability philosophies do exist.

One of the urgent areas for F&B operators to address is removing single-use plastics. JRG Dubai’s flagship home-grown legacy brand, The Noodle House, recently held its second annual ‘Plastic Amnesty’ to coincide with Earth Day. A direct response to the shocking quantity of plastic cutlery flooding the city and its landfills and beaches — especially with the numerous non-plastic alternatives now available — this plastics-for-discounts trade-in initiative has created a buzz amongst consumers and stimulated debate across the market.

As a group, JRG Dubai has removed single-use plastics such as plastic straws, swizzle sticks, and stirrers across our entire portfolio. We have also partnered with Vegware — the international compostable packaging leader — to roll-out green packaging solutions across The Noodle House’s takeaway and home delivery operations. As a result, our packaging products are now plastic-free, which has a direct impact on minimising the strain on landfills and the environment. We have also started introducing this at Flow, the homegrown healthy eating and creative hub at Jumeirah Emirates Towers Boulevard, and will be phasing out our current packaging supply as well as exploring a partnership with KeepCup. It is genuinely humbling to see how many restaurants are now following suit, especially ahead of the summer period when home deliveries soar.

However, while we still look to drive customers to our own delivery portals, we also rely on providers such as Deliveroo and Zomato — and this is where additional challenges arise. While both platforms provide customers with a choice to refuse plastic cutlery and excess packaging, operators rarely follow instructions. To end our over-reliance on non-biodegradables, the entire industry needs to be singing from the same hymn sheet.

Taking the single-use plastic or plastic-free campaign further, we have introduced alternatives to plastic water bottles, which have a lifespan of minutes for consumers but take years to decompose in landfills. As part of our efforts, Hillhouse Brasserie, The Duck Hook, and The Noodle House now offer house-filtered water in reusable glass bottles. Consequently, we have cut tens of thousands of plastic bottles from our annual waste and, with plans to expand the policy across all our brands in 2019, we’re on track to save hundreds of thousands of plastic bottles every year.

Imagine if we all did the same?

Dean Murphy is the director of operations at JRG Dubai, the UAE’s home-grown restaurant management company and part of Dubai Holding. JRG Dubai boasts a portfolio of more than 15 award-winning food and beverage venues.

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