Vue de Monde new kitchen
Cutting edge: Vue de Monde is on a quest to become the most sustainable restaurant in Australia. Photo: Supplied

The first international rating system to rank restaurants on their ethics and sustainability has divided Australian chefs, with one restaurateur applauding the “wholistic” approach to sustainability and another warning it’s “too much, too soon”.

Launched globally this week after three years in the UK, the Sustainable Restaurant Association system allows diners to compare restaurants based on where they source their food, how they manage their energy, waste and water, and even how they treat their staff. It takes a broader view of sustainability than other eco-rating systems, recognising the use of ethical, sustainable and fair trade food, as well as whether or not a restaurant promotes healthy eating, treats people fairly and engages with the community.

Around 500 UK restaurants have completed the SRA assessment since the system began in 2010, including two Michelin star restaurants Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons near Oxford, Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles and The Ledbury in Notting Hill.

Head chef Cory Campbell at Vue de Monde, Melbourne.Photograph Paul JeffersThe Sunday AgeMay 2nd 2013.
Sustainable approach: Vue de Monde head chef Cory Campbell. Photo: Paul Jeffers

Colin McLaren, owner of Villa Gusto in Victoria's alpine area, said the SRA’s approach was “too much, too soon” and would discourage businesses that were still in the early stages of becoming more sustainable. Villa Gusto was the 2013 winner of The Age Good Food Guide Sustainability Award.

“You’ve got to concentrate and make it at the start about food, about produce, and don't try and make it about relationships with staff or broader areas of the community,” he said.

“There’s not a lot of profit in food so if you put a lot of demands on everybody, they're not going to sign up.”

Vue de Monde head chef Cory Campbell said an international rating system was a “fantastic” way to promote collaboration between “restaurants that are looking toward the next generation”, regardless of their size or status.

Two years ago, Vue de Monde chef and owner Shannon Bennett announced his intention to make the renowned Melbourne restaurant the most sustainable in Australia, moving it to a new site fitted with more than 50 cutting-edge technologies designed to drastically reduce waste, water and energy use.

 “It should be looked upon as what people are doing and how to help other restaurants, rather than being against someone that can't be as 'green',” Campbell said.

“All those changes [we did], they can be quite expensive upfront and a lot of people can't afford that but they’re doing their thing in other little areas.”

However, John Hart, chief executive officer of Restaurant and Catering Australia, said a global rating system was unnecessary given restaurants could already sign up for certification through RCA’s Green Table program. Green Table focuses on reducing business’s environmental impact through energy saving, water saving, recycling and sustainable waste practices.

“I’ve looked at the Sustainable Restaurant Association stuff and I don’t think it’s got the integrity that our scheme has,” he said,

Hart also questioned the usefulness of including sourcing and societal components in the global rating system, saying the link between environmental impact and food sourcing was “spurious”.

“They might be lovely, feel-good factors and they might be buzz words for consumers but I would really question the impact they have on the business’s environmental footprint.”

But Sydney restaurateur and chef Kylie Kwong said restaurants depended on community support and the best way to give back to the community was through healthy, sustainable food.

“[The Sustainable Restaurant Association has] a wholistic view of the industry and I couldn't agree with it more,” Kwong said, adding that she has already enquired about signing up her restaurant Billy Kwong to the global system.

Since 2005, Billy Kwong has used locally grown, organic and biodynamic food – even the soy sauces, sugar, vinegar and oils are organic – and Fair Trade tea and chocolate. The restaurant transforms its energy consumption by purchasing renewable energy credits from a wind farm in Hebei, China.

“Restaurateurs and foodies are very influential people – especially in Australia because we’re all so obsessed with food … It’s almost our social responsibility and duty of care to send out the right messages and that includes sourcing produce that is ethical and sustainable.”