Is Your Business Model Sustainable?

The topic of sustainability is fairly ubiquitous in today's foodservice industry. And when we discuss sustainability in foodservice circles the conversation tends to focus on local sourcing of produce, energy efficient equipment and, if we're lucky, water and waste reduction. While these are all excellent and important parts of the discussion, it seems to me that we often fail to discuss an equally important aspect of sustainability: our business model.

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Simply put, sustainability is about creating a business model that provides a long-term return. Unfortunately, that's not the way today's business world is structured. "All of our economies are based on maximum efficient production for short-term economic growth," said Dr. Fred Kirschenmann, during his keynote presentation at the International Foodservice Sustainability Symposium. "If you are not able to do that you won't be in business for very long."

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But that short-term philosophy is in direct conflict with creating a sustainable business. That's because sustainable businesses are designed to be resistant to challenges, both known and unknown, that the future will present. "You either adapt or die. And you play by those rules or you are out of business," Kirschenmann said. "We have to re-think where we are going because the old systems will not support us forever."

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Too often today, companies are structured to provide a return on a month to month or quarter basis as they strive to deliver shareholder value. In order to build a business that will withstand the tests of time company leaders need to expand their thinking and engage their employees to start thinking beyond meeting next week's numbers. Yes, those numbers are important because they will keep the lights on and everyone employed for the time being but to build a truly sustainable organization everyone involved needs to ask themselves: What changes can we make that will open the door to other sustainable measures? That's because what makes you successful today won't necessarily keep you from going out of business or being eclipsed by a competitor tomorrow.

Just like most green initiatives, starting small can allow an organization to build momentum that will lead to bigger and better things. While he was speaking specifically of agriculture, I believe this Kirschenmann comment best sums up the concept of sustainability: "It is not about going back. It is about going ahead. We have an opportunity to move back into a partnership of culture and community."

In this issue we have a whole bushel of examples of companies who have embraced the need to innovate to move their businesses forward. Take, for example, our collection of 25 innovative restaurant chains. From changing unit prototypes to adding dayparts to driving growth by menu expansion, each of these chains has done an exemplary job of positioning their businesses for long-term success.

Sustainability is a big topic and it is not something you will ever completely cross off your to do list. But by making sure it is part of your role and responsibilities you can help ensure you have a to do list for your business for many years to come.
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