Interview with Melissa Hemsley

Celebrity chef, columnist, author and sustainability champion

If you could encourage hospitality venues to change one thing to make their business more environmentally friendly, what would it be?

Hospitality has had an incredibly tough time over the past year or so and I can’t wait to see it get back on its feet. Whilst the immediate focus will of course be about that, I also think there is a great opportunity to intertwine sustainability with how businesses reopen and market themselves. Above all, it’s about having a shared team vision. Get your team on board and make them understand why this is important and why you’re doing it. So, gather everyone together and work out the top five things the team will do to be more environmentally friendly. Write them down or distribute them digitally, but make sure they’re visual and that you keep coming back to them. You can make it really democratic so that everyone shares in the process and the success, so if you save money by cutting your energy bill for example, why not reinvest 50% of that saving into team building and 50% into the business? And don’t forget to appoint someone to lead the project and hold everyone else to account.

I’d also say that one thing I think the pandemic has really brought to light for everyone is the importance of mental health and supporting others. Show your team that you care and support them so that they’re able to contribute to your sustainability journey. One way to do this is by training up mental health first aiders.

Refillable Jars - Zero Waste

How can restaurants, bars and other hospitality venues lead the way on sustainability when the sector fully re-opens?

A few quick wins to start with. One, reusable masks! Yes, it may be a higher cost to begin with but it makes so much more sense in the long run. Two, the more greenery the better! Grow herbs on your windowsills or create a vegetable garden if you can. It’s a great visual indicator that you’re trying to connect to nature and be more sustainable. Three, don’t print out menus or receipts. Everyone is far more used to using apps now and you can always use old school chalk boards as well.

More broadly, less is more! One of my favourite quotes is by Douglas McMaster, the chef and founder of the first ever zero-waste restaurant Silo who said, “waste is a failure of the imagination”. Do glasses, plates and cutlery need to be replaced as often? Can you create a simpler offering with a menu led by local and seasonal suppliers? Can you provide recyclable or reusable containers for customers to take leftover food home or encourage them to bring their own? Maybe, we can make everything simpler and have less choice, less frills, less faff and ultimately less waste.

Most importantly, if you’re doing something then shout about it! Be proud of it, use it as a unique selling point and show that sustainability and community are as important to you as everything else.

What are your tips for the best way to communicate sustainability initiatives to the wider public – how do you make people care?

Think about how you can maximise digital. Your social media pages, for example, are a great place to share your ‘mini sustainability manifesto’. It’s about making clear what you’re doing and why and thanking your customers for being on the journey with you. Post-Covid, there will be lots of changes and new rules you will need to communicate with your customers, so make sustainability part of that and be honest that we’re all in this together.

Ultimately, we need to share what we know. One way to bring customers into this is by creating a sustainability suggestions box or asking them to message you online. There could be a prize if you take on their tip, like a free bottle of wine. Customers want to be listened to and heard, so call on them, ask them to be part of the change, empower them and your team – because, at the end of the day, we’re all accountable.

Related content

Headquarter_710x400 mobile image

News & Stories home

Return to the News & Stories homepage.

The Green and Blue Gala: Celebrating Sustainability in Hospitality

This Earth Day, 22nd April 2021, we’re proud to present the Green and Blue Gala - find out what's in store for this star-studded virtual event.

Sustainability by Numbers

The results are in - find out which sustainability initiatives are important to consumers.