Sustainable Stories

LEAF: A look back at where we started, and where we are now.

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The Dishwasher was rhythmically humming while the sink behind it filled up two industrial basins of water to thaw some chicken. Hood fans worked constantly over pre-heated fryers and flat tops that were cranked and working at full capacity. House lights were all on.

No one was in the restaurant though.

In the evenings, I’d melt ice in the bar sink by running hot water, and then scoop handful after handful of plastic straws and throw them in the garbage. It was a moment of awakening that I realized that the foodservice industry is incredibly wasteful. Foodservice has one of the largest carbon footprints of commercial operations, yet it is a driver of our economy and a past time for many. There had to be a way to improve the way we do things. I looked into what sustainability resources were available for foodservice establishments and found very little. The seed was planted, and after two years of research and development, a nationwide non-for-profit was launched that focused on reducing the environmental impact of the industry and certified restaurants that are operating more sustainably.

It was the community of like minded people around me who made the first steps possible. The emerging green movement in Calgary welcomed and supported my idea. Our pilot restaurant was River Cafe, a high-profile restaurant in Calgary whose owner shared our philosophy and passion for sustainability, while keeping us mindful of important considerations in a successful business. This like-mindedness was then discovered across Canada.

LEAF started with one restaurant in Calgary and has grown to what it is today, nearly 100 LEAF certified facilities across Canada, from independent restaurants to small cafes and campuses. We want to make a big impact on the world around us in terms of environmental efficiency and waste reduction, and help reverse the current environmental direction we’re headed. This is the passion that drives us daily. Wo do this in two ways: we educate restaurants about the benefits of sustainability, both environmental and financial, and provide guidance to improve their operations. And it goes far beyond local food. We look at everything from the menu, to the chemicals they use to clean, energy practices, water use, social policies and more. But we also engage in the consumer world where we help consumers find our LEAF certified restaurants so they can show their support and feel good about where they choose to eat.

We now have third-party auditors and LEAF certified restaurants in most major cities in Canada. The auditor’s role is to work within their communities to reduce the environmental impact of local restaurants, and improve their environmental and economic sustainability, which ultimately benefits the local community. A lot goes into a restaurant getting a LEAF sticker on their door. The places that have it are passionate about sustainability, their communities and people.

As a non-profit, we work hard at creating more awareness for LEAF and what it means, why it exists. We know people tend to feel better by eating somewhere they know is more sustainable. These people who feel that it is important tend to spread the word and it’s this organic growth that propels us forward. We use social networks to increase awareness of the restaurants that are doing good things, and then that relationship is continued face to face and off the network, when our audience visits a LEAF restaurant for a truly great experience.

How can you help? Reduce your own impact by refusing disposable plastics when you go out to eat, look for LEAF certified restaurants and encourage your local restaurants to get LEAF certified. If you work in the foodservice industry and want to improve the sustainability of your restaurant, get in touch!