Focusing on sustainability efforts is by no means a new idea, but local Madison restaurants are taking steps to protect the environment.
James Juedes, manager at Casetta Kitchen and Counter, said limiting his business’s carbon footprint has been a priority since it opened in February 2017. Located one block from the Capitol, Casetta is known for their deli sandwiches, which are made-to-order on freshly baked bread.
Since day one, all of Casetta’s cutlery, drinks and food have been served on plant-based, biodegradable material. Juedes said the business produces a lot of disposables, so focusing on eliminating as much waste as possible is important. Casetta stays away from plastic and styrofoam because they do not degrade.
Casetta also strives to be sustainable in the food he produces. The business tries to use local produce rather than food shipped across the world, Juedes said.
“All Madison restaurants are blessed to have such a great network of farmers that come right to our door,” Juedes said.
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Juedes said Casetta focuses on local, in-season foods, such as root vegetables. The restaurant’s seasonal sides rotate to reflect these locally-sourced offerings. But Juedes also said Casetta can’t survive on local produce alone.
“As a restaurant, you do need things that aren’t growing in the middle of the winter in Wisconsin,” Juedes said. “We do our best.”
For Casetta, practically pursuing environmentally sustainable practices means finding a healthy balance between profitability and waste reduction. Juedes said it’s important for all restaurants to do what they can to be sustainable.
Tom Eggert, a senior lecturer in business sustainability at the University of Wisconsin, said there are many ways for businesses to be sustainable beyond pursuing more expensive routes, like switching to plant-based cutlery. Maximizing energy efficiency is a simple way to practice sustainability, Eggert said.
“A company that switches out incandescent light bulbs for LEDs are not only saving money, but they are emitting 90 percent less carbon to light their restaurant,” Eggert said. “It’s a dual win.”
Ian’s Pizza, another local Madison restaurant with two locations, believes in what they call the Triple Bottom Line model. According to Ian’s website, this model refers to “People, Planet and Profits.” Specializing in pizza by the slice, Ian’s also features an extensive salad bar.
Zach Chapman, marketing director at Ian’s said the restaurant has made it a mission to eliminate as much plastic as possible. Their drinks are served in glass bottles, aluminum cans or boxed water, and they have stopped offering plastic straws and lids for their fountain drinks. Chapman said they have made the switch to plant-based materials for items including their water cups, salad containers, cutlery and straws.
Chapman also said they encourage customers to reuse their pizza boxes. Customers who reuse their box get a punch on a card that grants them a free slice of pizza upon completion. Ian’s even has signage that helps make consumers more aware of their waste, with posters that advertise their “boxes do grow on trees.”
Trying to reduce the size of their carbon footprint has always been part of Ian’s core values, Chapman said. Every year, Ian’s is a sponsor for the Sustain Dane Summit. This summit aims to bring an array of people together with keynote speakers and performers to talk about sustainability issues.
“We aren’t doing it to gain more business,” Chapman said. “It’s just the right thing to do.”
Chapman said the Madison market is knowledgeable and wants to support eco-friendly businesses, and that Ian’s sustainability efforts help explain its popularity in the local community.
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Eggert echoed that sentiment, saying that consumers want to spend their money at businesses that maintain corporate responsibility and strong ethical standards.
“When [a consumer] gives a business their money, they want some control over what kind of behavior that business is engaged in,” Eggert said.
Like Casetta, Ian’s tries to use local food when they can, Chapman said.
Chapman said the business tries to buy local, especially in the summer season. He said the restaurant replenishes their salad bar with produce from local farmers markets twice a week in the summer.
“The population is growing, and it’s just our duty to leave the planet in a better place than we found it,” Chapman said.
A couple of years ago, Ian’s took additional steps to eliminate food waste by participating in a pilot compost program. Unfortunately, the city has since put a halt to the operation.
Eggert said that while businesses are worried about customers, they are also worried about employees. Today’s employment market is competitive. Eggert said people want to work somewhere they feel is making a difference — and offering money isn’t always enough.
Eggert said these principles extend all the way down to restaurants. Employees have a skill set allowing them to move around between food establishments.
“Employees are driven by what the company’s values are and what they stand for,” Eggert said.
While many Madison restaurants practice good sustainability efforts, Eggert said greenwashing — appearing to be more environmentally friendly than you really are — is a perception the general public tends to hold toward many companies.
Though Eggert doesn’t think this is a big problem in the restaurant industry, it is something for other industries to keep in mind.
“Right now this is the only planet that we have to live on,” Chapman said. “It’s important for us to take care of it.”