Then, three years ago, we sat down with a leading environmental group who helped us evolve our sustainability strategy and gave us a direct focus on specific goals: increasing the number of plants on our menu, renewable energy, and reducing our use of plastics.
We’ve invested a lot of time in these areas and want to show there’s a better way to do business, but we know there’s still a lot more we can and should do. Next year we’re turning our attention to becoming carbon neutral.
The SRA’s rating criteria acknowledges the holistic approach we all need to take to sustainability and, like our thinking, is based on three pillars: Sourcing, Society & Environment. You can read more about their framework here. Or you can read below to find out how we’re doing in each part.
1. Celebrate Local and Seasonal
We think that food tastes best when it’s in season and we use our menu to celebrate these natural rhythms. Our Lebanese Mezze Salad, with roast carrot and butternut tumbled in a rose harissa dressing, tastes like Autumn.
And if you have it with a side of Chargrilled Chicken Mezze then you’ll be pleased to know we only ever use British chicken thigh across our menu. In fact we use British meat everywhere, apart from our chorizo which comes from Spain. Our eggs are free-range and British too.
2. Serve More Veg and Better Meat
When we first created our Original Super Salad, it was in response to the question we asked ourselves: how can we make vegetables taste good? This has always been our goal, and in our cookbook Naturally Fast Food, published in 2010, we were already talking about ‘meat as a side dish’. We try to go quantity down, quality up, and use veg to take up more space on the plate.
We’ve been increasing the number of plant-based dishes on our menu and it couldn’t make us happier to see what you’re loving them too. Our focus is always on flavour, and these dishes are made to be tasty, not to be vegan or vegetarian – it’s just a convenient bonus that as you’re eating well you can be helping the planet too. Currently over 2/3 of our menu is vegetarian and over 1/3 vegan.
3. Source Responsibly
We currently source 2 types of fish for our menu, and both are rated ‘1-2’ (‘Fish to Eat’) on the Marine Conservation Society’s rating. The cod in our fish fingers is from sustainable Icelandic shoals and are always line caught. And the smoked salmon we use in our breakfast poached egg pots and toasted sourdough muffins are from Wester Ross, Scotland’s oldest independent owner operated salmon farm, where all the farming is done by hand. Leaves a good taste, we think.
We use Red Tractor as a minimum meat sourcing standard across our menu, and our Gluten Free Chicken Nuggets are accredited to Red Tractor Plus. The sourcing standards set out by Red Tractor mean our chickens are never caged or in multi-tier systems and always have high-quality air on their farms. They have perchable space, hay bales and other peckable things to keep them stimulated.
We visit our chicken farms regularly and we know our chickens have room, daylight, and are well looked after. Red Tractor has a low carbon footprint, though we do know the more sustainable option is to increase the number of plant-based dishes on our menu and we’re working on that too.
We believe there are improvements to chicken welfare that could, if we work collectively as an industry, become standard practice. We want to work with other restaurants and retailers to make these changes happen as soon as possible. We want to introduce stipulations to ensure all chickens have a guaranteed minimum access to natural light and even more room to move freely.
4. Support Global Farmers
We can’t source everything locally, so when we do venture further afield we make sure to keep our same principles and only buy fairly-traded products. Take our coffee, for example. It’s Fairtrade (which means it’s better for the farmers who grow the beans), Organic (which means it tastes better and is better for the soil it’s grown in), and proceeds from every bag we sell go to the World Land Trust. The WLT buy and conserve big areas of rainforest, and last year alone we helped to buy over 100 acres of rainforest and purchase a new nature reserve in Honduras, where we source our beans.
1. Treat Staff Fairly
We work in a meritocracy. Our gender pay gap is smaller than both the UK and Food & Beverage sector averages and, as of April 2017, women made up 55% of our workforce and constituted the majority across all roles, except the senior team.
But it’s not just about what happens in our Borough support office. We pay all of our team members above National Living Wage, and that includes paid lunch breaks. We promote flexible working, including lots of part-time roles.
And we’ve also got a wellbeing space in central London for our team members to use. It’s free to use and we run classes like yoga, fitness, and wing tsun.
2. Support the Community
Our co-founders John Vincent and Henry Dimbleby co-wrote The School Food Plan, which resulted in dramatic changes to school food with the introduction of Universal Infant Free School Meals. This was more than free school meals – it was a way of getting cooking on the national curriculum for the first time and beginning a culture shift in how food is grown, taught, prepared and eaten in schools.
3. Feed People Well
We want to make sure everyone who works at LEON gets the same opportunity to eat well and live well. That’s why we have free paid lunch breaks, give everyone a 60% discount outside of their shifts, and try to create a food culture across all of our restaurants. In fact, the first thing we do when people join LEON is make sure they get paid training on food and nutrition.
1. Value Natural Resources
There’s a platitude that ‘There is no Planet B.’ It’s cliché, but most clichés are clichés because they’re true. All of our restaurants are powered by 100% green energy; a mix of wind, solar, hydro and anaerobic digestion. We’re also using LED lighting in our restaurants to make them more energy efficient.
2. Reduce Reuse Recycle
We’re trying to reduce the amount of plastic we use. Our food has always been served in compostable boxes and bags, just like our takeaway coffee cups, and earlier this year we replaced plastic cutlery and straws with biodegradable and paper alternatives.
In the restaurants where we’re responsible for our waste, rather than our landlords, we’re always zero waste-to-landfill, meaning our trash is given a new lease of life.
And did you know it’s National Recycling Week this week? Just in case we all needed any extra reminders to do the right thing.
3. Waste No Food
We’re fanatical about food waste. It’s unnecessary and it’s expensive, so we set all of our restaurants tight targets to have nothing leftover at the end of the day. We make our food fresh to order and judge our forecasts based on the weather, the day of the week (we know you prefer salads on Mondays and Tuesdays, and burgers and wraps as the weekend rolls in) and the sales we had on the same day last year. This means we have almost nothing left over at the end of the day, though any food waste we do have is sent to anaerobic digestion.
Alternatively if you know of a charity near to any of our restaurants who might want to pick up any leftover food, please let us know.