H L Mencken, the journalist, cynic, and freethinker, wrote “There is always an easy solution to every human problem – neat, plausible, ….and wrong.” He nailed it. Life really does look simple until the battery runs out on your phone, or the last screw you are removing is rusted tight, your WD40 empty and B&Q is closed.

But easy solutions are what we all yearn for, lost at sea in our tik-tok boats hoping that someone will write an algorithm to give us a quick fix.

The race is now in full flow in our sector on sustainability – a race which has become progressively less simple. I’ve been genuinely inspired that so many operators (often supported by the brilliant Zero Carbon Forum) are grasping the nettle of building carbon reduction plans. Real progress is being made – not just with planning, but also operational delivery of carbon and cost reductions within the areas of Scope 1 and Scope 2*.

*(1 is emissions from sources controlled directly, and 2 is energy bought in)

Scope 3 emissions are much harder to measure and manage however. These emissions are created within an organisation’s supply chains – the major ones of course being food and drink.

There has understandably been a rush to establish baseline data. After all, what gets measured gets done, right? Increasingly sophisticated data collection and reporting from talented new organisations like Nutritics, MyEmissions and FoodSteps is now gushing through spreadsheets in commercial offices throughout the sector. And this is translating into three key areas of action – Menu Development, Waste Management and Supply Chain.

Once again, it’s not surprising that early effort is focused on low-hanging fruit. The mix of dishes on menus and the reformulation of recipes to deliver lower carbon impact is now starting to become a regular feature of operations meetings, and is even feeding through to diner experience. Carbon menu labelling is starting to appear. And we are beginning to see much more focus around the management of food waste to reduce carbon impact, again often using technology as an enabler through businesses like Winnow and Leanpath.

But like all low hanging fruit, there’s still an enormous amount patiently waiting to be picked before it rots in the tree above – in this case Supply Chain. Here progress has generally been more patchy. The reasons for this are complex, but most hinge around cost, specification and (at its heart) the transition happening now in farming, as they too grapple with the complexities of carbon measurement and management. I think it is now common wisdom that the intensive food production processes introduced the-world-over since the 1950s are not only carbon intensive, but are also destroying our soils, damaging bio-diversity/the natural environment, and are less nutritious. Many of these processes centre around the use of manufactured chemicals for fertilisers, pesticides, and herbicides - which whilst an additional cost often create much higher yields, and therefore enhanced returns.

The level of innovation that has been created within this transition away from intensive farming is spectacularly impressive. We are moving rapidly away from a farming system focused almost totally on yield, delivering less diversity of products, using common standardised processes - to one where innovation abounds, and even intensively managed farms are seeking to reduce inputs and treat the environment with greater respect. In this new era carbon levels are not ubiquitous (if they ever were), so more sophistication is now required to choose the best product at the right price at the right time.

For hospitality operators that are seeking to find ways to blend progress on carbon reduction and sustainability with a hard commercial realism around cost/margin these changes present significant opportunities. For example, apparently similar products can have markedly different emission levels depending on the land on which it is farmed, and its methods of production. And that’s before one discusses other factors on the dial like cost, animal welfare, and environmental impact. Real opportunities exist not only to improve the quality and sustainability of food on the plate, but also creating a narrative with diners that is engaged and authentic about looking after them and the planet.

But to be realised these opportunities cannot always be accessed just through conversations with existing supply channels. For decades operators have been restricted by huge levels of standardisation within relatively ubiquitous supply chains, but now the variability of available product is expanding fast as new terms like regenerative, permaculture and wildfarmed emerge, and more bespoke solutions are possible – particularly for larger operators, or those prepared to collaborate with other operators. And buyers need new skills sets to model and evaluate novel arrangements, and create long-term partnerships rather than shopping around for best price.

In October this year, we are (at Prestige) organising the first ever Farm Study Tour for the hospitality sector, with the aim of providing the education required for C-suite operators and their Supply Chain leaders to fully exploit the opportunities available. For many of those attending this will be their first visit to operational farms, and we are hoping to create a step-change in understanding of how to deliver sustainable food for the future.

Hospitality is such a huge and important part of the whole food sector. It’s been such a tough time in our world in recent years, but as a sector we have never been shy of engaging with innovation, new opportunity and new learning. I believe that farming, weary of difficult relationships with the major retailers are open and hungry to engage with us. This is our time to engage.