Wahaca, the Mexican restaurant group founded by Thomasina Miers and Mark Selby, has become the first restaurant group in the UK to be certified a CarbonNeutral® Company.
Since opening the very first restaurant in Covent Garden in 2007, Wahaca has sought to be a climate leader in the industry, challenging itself to ensure that each site has as low an environmental impact as possible.
The group, which currently has 23 locations, has reduced the average total energy consumption of newer sites (those established after 2013) by 36%. Further to this, Wahaca regularly assesses the efficiency of older locations, and by upgrading systems and appliances has decreased the average energy consumption of older sites by 15%.
For example, adjusting a heater battery at the Bluewater Wahaca led to a 76% reduction in gas use. In 2016, through offsetting the remaining unavoidable energy usage by investing in far-reaching energy-saving initiatives, Wahaca has been certified as having a net zero carbon footprint.
Wahaca has always looked to continually improve its sustainability in its site construction and operations, completing SKA Retail environmental assessments for every new restaurant.
The group has introduced measures such as utilising heat energy created by fridges and freezers to heat the restaurants’ hot water, installing demand driven ventilation systems and motion sensor lighting, and installing flow controllers in all plumbing. Further to this, Wahaca regularly re-assesses existing systems and appliances in all locations, making upgrades where beneficial.
To supplement these initiatives, Wahaca has gone one step further to reduce all of its company emissions to net zero. Using renewable energy instruments for the energy used in Wahaca restaurants and head office, and carbon credits for its remaining emissions including business travel, Wahaca has achieved a net zero carbon footprint in accordance with The CarbonNeutral Protocol.
Notably, Wahaca is supporting the Improved Mexican Cookstove project, donating funds which make efficient cookstoves affordable to low-income households in some of the poorest rural states in Mexico (particularly around Oaxaca). In addition to reducing fuel use by as much as 60%, the new stoves reduce exposure to harmful indoor air pollution – the fourth worst risk factor for disease in developing countries, particularly for women and children who spend more time around the stoves.
The high-quality, affordable plancha wood stoves have been specifically designed to be locally appropriate for the communities in Mexico and replace inefficient, traditional, 3-stone fires. Moreover, the fire chamber is enclosed, minimising a burn risk for children, and reducing the price spent per family on fuel by saving 2,800kg of fire wood per year.
In addition to its in-restaurant initiatives, Wahaca extends its green remit further with a sustainable approach to waste management and ingredient sourcing.
Where it has control of the waste collection contract, Wahaca appoints the most sustainable contractors, whilst all food waste from the restaurants is converted into biogas and liquid fertiliser. With regard to sourcing, at Wahaca Brixton, the restaurant has teamed up with neighbours Brixton Brewery to produce the perfect beer to go with the menu offerings.
The Lupulo pale ale is exclusive to Wahaca Brixton and, originating just a five minute walk from the restaurant, helps limit carbon emissions that would be generated from importing. Likewise, Wahaca has teamed up with Riverford Organic, which grows poblano peppers, a mild chilli pepper originating from Puebla, Mexico, and tomatillos, also known as Mexican husk tomatoes, exclusively for the restaurant group on their farms located around Britain.
Wahaca has furthermore been working with the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) on sustainable fish sourcing since 2008 and is also currently investigating local herb growing schemes. Wahaca’s sustainability credentials have also been recognised by the Sustainable Restaurant Association, which has recently awarded Wahaca its Three Star SRA Sustainability Rating , an accolade that it has maintained since 2012.
“This is all part of a sustainable journey we started with our first restaurant in Covent Garden, where we determined to prove you could build and grow a restaurant business in the UK which had sustainability at its heart,” says Mark Selby, co-founder of Wahaca.
“From humble, naïve beginnings in 2007 where we just did anything we could think of – including reusing all the wood from the old dance floor in Covent Garden to build our new restaurant walls, to persuading all our new waiters that we weren’t mad and really did want to segregate waste into 7 different bins – to a now really quite sophisticated platform where we assess and challenge every element of our business; asking ” how can we do this so that we don’t leave a negative footprint on the planet?” To achieve a CarbonNeutral status in the year where carbon emissions are on the global agenda in such a significant way is another milestone in this journey and one we are very proud of.”