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Eco labels benefit food-service sector

Green Table and Ocean Wise offer restaurants and caterers a framework in which they can grow their green side
Daily Catch owner/operator Ryan Johnson (l), with business partner Dylan McCulloch, runs a profitable Ocean Wise–exclusive business startup in Vancouver

Sustainable practices are paying off for B.C. food-service operators and suppliers and the eco labels that support them. Vancouver- based eco labels such as Green Table Network and Ocean Wise that provide the food-service industry with benchmark standards, practices and networking opportunities are in demand from B.C. food-service companies wanting to build, maintain and grow sustainable operations.

André LaRivičre, executive director of Vancouver-based, no-profit Green Table Network, says he started Green Table in 2007 because he saw emerging demand for a workable, affordable sustainability framework in the Metro Vancouver food-services industry.

For a flat, annually renewable fee, Green Table provides a step-by-step online guide with resources on how to implement internationally recognized sustainability practices and measure the results, leading toward an onsite audit that accredits the successful food- service operator with full Green Table Network membership. Green Table also provides additional fee-for-service consultation.

According to LaRivičre, Green Table wasn’t a hard sell to its local membership of more than 150 food-service operators and 20 suppliers: “Put going green into a game plan that makes sense for a business … the two things they want to know are how to go green and where to get the stuff.”

LaRivičre says Green Table members recover the cost of basic membership within six months to a year from measurable efficiencies in waste output, water, electricity and natural gas usage but admits “we’re not at the point where return on investment is crystal clear [for everyone]; we can’t make the claim you will save 20% on energy costs.”

LaRivičre sees plenty of growing interest in sustainability from the catering and take-out business, as many corporate clients find offering employees a sustainable lunch “dead easy to implement.”

Blaine Arnot, co-owner of Vancouver-based Savoury City Catering, says sustainability has always been part of how they do business but there’s a “clear benefit as far as marketing is concerned because that’s the direction everyone is going in,” and organizations like Green Table “can give you a whole raft of ideas … you can really cut to the chase.”

Savoury City is a Green Table Network member and serves Ocean Wise–verified seafood. Arnot says his company has been approached by corporate sustainability committees interested in green options for all aspects of their business, including catering.

Viren Malik, chief operating officer of Vancouver-based Ethical Bean Coffee, suggests sustainability practices are the expectation from consumers toward companies with organic supply channels like Ethical Bean. Malik says that the company’s policy is to source sustainable options even if it increases costs – such as providing biodegradable and reusable eco-tainers for its café outlets – but that this is offset by consumer demand. When retail clients like “IGA, Thrifty Foods, see you stand behind it, they want to do business with you.”

Mike McDermid, Ocean Wise partner relations manager with the Vancouver Aquarium, says 3,100 locations nationwide serve or stock Ocean Wise–verified seafood. He credits the continued support of local chefs for the program’s growing popularity. “When more chefs came on board with Ocean Wise, it was an incentive for more suppliers to come on board.”

McDermid sees “sustainability as a business advantage” and points to locally based seafood wholesaler Albion Fisheries Ltd.: “Twenty per cent of [sustainably sourced] items drive 60% of sales.”

He says that although sustainable seafood may be more expensive to source, consumers make up the cost difference “because consumers are demanding it” and “smaller-scale fisheries and farmers are seeing opportunities in this.”

According to Ryan Johnson, owner/operator of the startup Daily Catch Seafood Company, the retail location is the only seafood market in Metro Vancouver to exclusively stock Ocean Wise– verified seafood products.

The facility is also sustainably operated, with high-efficiency lighting and energy-efficient coolers. Johnson says he and business partner Dylan McCulloch came across the Ocean Wise model during market research before opening their Commercial Drive store in November 2010 and decided that was the way to go. Johnson hoped their business would turn a profit within a year; instead, the business became profitable in six months.

“Down the road, this is where everyone will be going,” said Johnson, adding that sustainability is “good for business; we would not have been as successful if we went the other route.” •