Many Hong Kong restaurants have embraced sustainability – not using straws, for example, and shunning fish and shellfish that isn’t on an approved list of sustainably sourced seafood. The average diner appears oblivious to their efforts. “To be honest, guests mostly only care about the price and if it tastes good – and that’s fine with me,” says Paul McLoughlin, executive chef at the Cordis hotel, in Mong Kok, Kowloon, where the Alibi restaurant and bar only uses seafood that is certified as sustainably sourced. With food production accounting for 20-30 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, and the need for action to stem the global climate crisis becoming more urgent, the city’s environmental movement received a boost with the launch in November of social enterprise Food Made Good Hong Kong. Food Made Good was launched in the UK by The Sustainable Restaurant Association in 2009 to speed up environmental and ethical change in the hospitality sector. A core part of its mission is assigning member restaurants a sustainability rating, derived by their completing a detailed survey which produces a score benchmarked against peers in the industry. From this a star rating is devised. In the UK, this way of assessing sustainability has proven highly successful, with member restaurants across the food industry, from high-end establishments such as The River Cafe to chains such as Nando’s, as well as catering companies, feeding thousands of diners every day. Food Made Good went global this year, with the Hong Kong chapter its first overseas to launch. Other countries, such as Japan and Greece, are slated to join in the next few months. Heidi Yu Spurrell, CEO of Food Made Good Hong Kong, spent months before the official launch to gather founding members – restaurants that she says are “leading by example” in terms of sustainable actions. “We can say, please look at what they’re doing, rather than denigrate others for not doing well. We really want to take the positive route. For example, Richard Ekkebus [culinary director of Amber restaurant and of the Landmark Mandarin Oriental hotel in Hong Kong] does seafood very well – he has six apps on his phone just to try and understand the [sustainable seafood sourcing] space. This knowledge can be shared on our platform,” she says. Other founding members include fine-dining restaurants Arcane and Petrus , as well as casual and quick-service choices such as vegan cafe Mana!, food chain Saladstop, and Pizza Express. Food Made Good’s survey takes a multifaceted view of sustainability. “Everything we do is underpinned by the three pillars: society, sourcing and environment. The ratings will measure against each of the 10 focus areas that fall under the three pillars. You’ll get a percentage for each, it will benchmark you [against similar businesses], and you’ll have a target for the following year,” says Yu Spurrell. Working with other specialists, such as global conservation charity WWF on environmental matters, and Oxfam on social welfare, Food Made Good synthesises the latest research into easy-to-read one- to two-page “tool kits” to help busy food service operators take actionable steps, be it how to ask suppliers for more transparency in sourcing, to ways to hold an electricity-free dinner event to raise awareness for Earth Day. I’ve been talking to some of my suppliers … we’ll get meat that’s in a plastic vacuum wrap packet, inside another plastic bag. They want to change, but they don’t know where the alternatives are Shane Osborn, chef-owner of Arcane and president of Food Made Good Hong Kong With Hong Kong importing more than 90 per cent of its food , it’s hard to imagine the city’s restaurants scoring highly for sustainable sourcing. Yu Spurrell says the rating methodology has been adjusted to put more emphasis on finding transparent sources rather than strictly local ones. Beyond eating local, there are other ways to cut down on one’s carbon footprint. A key one is to reduce meat consumption; eating more plant-based foods is number four on the list of 100 Solutions to Reverse Global Warming published by Project Drawdown, a global research organisation focused on solutions for climate change. Arcane, led by chef Shane Osborn , the president of Food Made Good Hong Kong, has been making not eating meat easier ever since it opened five years ago. “One of the strengths that we have is that we’ve always offered a strong vegetarian element in the menus. A third of our menu now is vegetarian and we have a separate vegan menu, and that’s something we’ve always done,” says Osborn. The daily specials Arcane offers are likely to be vegetarian or vegan too, such as a dish of roasted Brussels sprouts with tamarillo salsa, coconut yogurt and chestnuts, or roasted pumpkin soup with shiitake mushrooms. At burger chain Beef & Liberty, plant-based options are also on the rise. “Vegetarian food at a meat restaurant is typically an afterthought, and the chef does the rest of the menu and goes, ‘Oh wait, we need a vegetarian salad,’ of whatever it may be. So we tried from early on to make the vegetarian food really tasty [so] that [it] will appeal to everybody, and not just to vegetarians,” says Will Bray, managing director of Beef & Liberty. Its beetroot and falafel burgers have always been popular, but recently the chain added Impossible Meats’ processed plant-based patty to its menu. “It gives people an additional reason to not eat meat, to try something new, particularly because Impossible was positioned as something that would appeal to carnivores rather than vegetarians,” says Bray, although he acknowledges that a processed product shouldn’t dominate Beef & Liberty’s meat-free options. The quest for a satisfying plant-based burger continues – Bray says the chain is working on more recipes, to be released next year. “It’s actually very difficult to make a really good vegetarian burger. It’s no good to have a mushroom burger, it’s not interesting enough.” “A common misconception is that sustainable initiatives are really expensive,” says Yu Spurrell. She gives an example of saving money through getting rid of a “default choice” such as wet wipes on every table. “Wet wipes are not biodegradable, they come wrapped in plastic, they’re single use. Why not have your customers ask for it? We say ‘sustainability by stealth’ – just do it without anyone really noticing. Are they really going to miss it?” Reducing the volume of waste sent to Hong Kong’s overflowing landfills, from packaging that comes with restaurant deliveries, to water bottles, to straws, is also key. Osborn says: “I’ve been talking to some of my suppliers about reducing the amount of plastic. For instance, I’ll order some bananas from my vegetable supplier, and they’ll put them in a plastic bag. It doesn’t need it, it’s got its own packaging. Same with the meat suppliers, we’ll get meat that’s in a plastic vacuum wrap packet, inside another plastic bag. “They want to change, but they don’t know where the alternatives are, and whether they can use biodegradable alternatives, because they need to have some sort of separation for hygiene. The more people we get on board with this, the more power we have to convince suppliers to do this. “If you walk around Central or Lan Kwai Fong in the morning, you see all these styrofoam boxes with vegetables separated by plastic bags – that shouldn’t be happening in 2019. The world’s changed a lot; Hong Kong needs to be part of that.” Beef & Liberty uses a high-quality water filtration system to significantly reduce the number of bottles sent to recycling or landfill, as well as cut down on the carbon required to ship bottles of water across the world. It asks for a small water charge instead, which goes to Hong Kong Cleanup, a beach clean-up charity. “I think very early on, we thought, let’s be practical about it, let’s use our common sense. It costs you HK$70 (US$9) to buy a bottle of mineral water and 20 minutes later, it goes in the bin and gets sent back to wherever to get recycled. It doesn’t really make sense,” says Bray. “It’s no real work for us. We have to buy the filtration machine, and convince our guests that filtered water is fine, it’s much cheaper and good for the environment, and people say, ‘Wonderful, ok, great’. It’s not a big thing to do, but has quite a big impact.” How people are treated is another pillar in the Food Made Good framework. Restaurants are assessed on aspects such as how they empower their staff, as well as the charities they support. Beef & Liberty, for instance, organises beach clean-ups. Antidote to fast fashion: the labels making high-quality basics Yu Spurrell’s goal is to sign up at least 5 per cent of Hong Kong’s restaurants to Food Made Good within three years. She suggests restaurants start by exploring its website, especially the “Food Made Good 50”, a free mini-survey where restaurants can get an idea of how they’re doing on the sustainability front. “The more people who come on board with Food Made Good Hong Kong, we can become more convincing as a collective,” says Osborn.