Arthur Potts Dawson: A vision for sustainable restaurants

Arthur Potts Dawson: A vision for sustainable restaurants


Restaurants and the food industry in general are pretty much the most wasteful industry in the world. For every calorie of food that we consume here in Britain today, 10 calories are taken to produce it. That’s a lot. I want to take something rather humble to discuss. I found this in the farmers’ market today, and if anybody wants to take it home and mash it later, you’re very welcome to. The humble potato — and I’ve spent a long time, 25 years, preparing these. And it pretty much goes through eight different forms in its lifetime. First of all, it’s planted, and that takes energy. It grows and is nurtured. It’s then harvested. It’s then distributed, and distribution is a massive issue. It’s then sold and bought, and it’s then delivered to me. I basically take it, prepare it, and then people consume it — hopefully they enjoy it. The last stage is basically waste, and this is is pretty much where everybody disregards it. There are different types of waste. There’s a waste of time; there’s a waste of space; there’s a waste of energy; and there’s a waste of waste. And every business I’ve been working on over the past five years, I’m trying to lower each one of these elements. Okay, so you ask what a sustainable restaurant looks like. Basically a restaurant just like any other. This is the restaurant, Acorn House. Front and back. So let me run you through a few ideas. Floor: sustainable, recyclable. Chairs: recycled and recyclable. Tables: Forestry Commission. This is Norwegian Forestry Commission wood. This bench, although it was uncomfortable for my mom — she didn’t like sitting on it, so she went and bought these cushions for me from a local jumble sale — reusing, a job that was pretty good. I hate waste, especially walls. If they’re not working, put a shelf on it, which I did, and that shows all the customers my products. The whole business is run on sustainable energy. This is powered by wind. All of the lights are daylight bulbs. Paint is all low-volume chemical, which is very important when you’re working in the room all the time. I was experimenting with these — I don’t know if you can see it — but there’s a work surface there. And that’s a plastic polymer. And I was thinking, well I’m trying to think nature, nature, nature. But I thought, no, no, experiment with resins, experiment with polymers. Will they outlive me? They probably might. Right, here’s a reconditioned coffee machine. It actually looks better than a brand new one — so looking good there. Now reusing is vital. And we filter our own water. We put them in bottles, refrigerate them, and then we reuse that bottle again and again and again. Here’s a great little example. If you can see this orange tree, it’s actually growing in a car tire, which has been turned inside out and sewn up. It’s got my compost in it, which is growing an orange tree, which is great. This is the kitchen, which is in the same room. I basically created a menu that allowed people to choose the amount and volume of food that they wanted to consume. Rather than me putting a dish down, they were allowed to help themselves to as much or as little as they wanted. Okay, it’s a small kitchen. It’s about five square meters. It serves 220 people a day. We generate quite a lot of waste. This is the waste room. You can’t get rid of waste. But this story’s not about eliminating it, it’s about minimizing it. In here, I have produce and boxes that are unavoidable. I put my food waste into this dehydrating, desiccating macerator — turns food into an inner material, which I can store and then compost later. I compost it in this garden. All of the soil you can see there is basically my food, which is generated by the restaurant, and it’s growing in these tubs, which I made out of storm-felled trees and wine casks and all kinds of things. Three compost bins — go through about 70 kilos of raw vegetable waste a week — really good, makes fantastic compost. A couple of wormeries in there too. And actually one of the wormeries was a big wormery. I had a lot of worms in it. And I tried taking the dried food waste, putting it to the worms, going, “There you go, dinner.” It was like vegetable jerky, and killed all of them. I don’t know how many worms [were] in there, but I’ve got some heavy karma coming, I tell you. (Laughter) What you’re seeing here is a water filtration system. This takes the water out of the restaurant, runs it through these stone beds — this is going to be mint in there — and I sort of water the garden with it. And I ultimately want to recycle that, put it back into the loos, maybe wash hands with it, I don’t know. So, water is a very important aspect. I started meditating on that and created a restaurant called Waterhouse. If I could get Waterhouse to be a no-carbon restaurant that is consuming no gas to start with, that would be great. I managed to do it. This restaurant looks a little bit like Acorn House — same chairs, same tables. They’re all English and a little bit more sustainable. But this is an electrical restaurant. The whole thing is electric, the restaurant and the kitchen. And it’s run on hydroelectricity, so I’ve gone from air to water. Now it’s important to understand that this room is cooled by water, heated by water, filters its own water, and it’s powered by water. It literally is Waterhouse. The air handling system inside it — I got rid of air-conditioning because I thought there was too much consumption going on there. This is basically air-handling. I’m taking the temperature of the canal outside, pumping it through the heat exchange mechanism, it’s turning through these amazing sails on the roof, and that, in turn, is falling softly onto the people in the restaurant, cooling them, or heating them, as the need may be. And this is an English willow air diffuser, and that’s softly moving that air current through the room. Very advanced, no air-conditioning — I love it. In the canal, which is just outside the restaurant, there is hundreds of meters of coil piping. This takes the temperature of the canal and turns it into this four-degrees of heat exchange. I have no idea how it works, but I paid a lot of money for it. (Laughter) And what’s great is one of the chefs who works in that restaurant lives on this boat — it’s off-grid; it generates all its own power. He’s growing all his own fruit, and that’s fantastic. There’s no accident in names of these restaurants. Acorn House is the element of wood; Waterhouse is the element of water; and I’m thinking, well, I’m going to be making five restaurants based on the five Chinese medicine acupuncture specialities. I’ve got water and wood. I’m just about to do fire. I’ve got metal and earth to come. So you’ve got to watch your space for that. Okay. So this is my next project. Five weeks old, it’s my baby, and it’s hurting real bad. The People’s Supermarket. So basically, the restaurants only really hit people who believed in what I was doing anyway. What I needed to do was get food out to a broader spectrum of people. So people — i.e., perhaps, more working-class — or perhaps people who actually believe in a cooperative. This is a social enterprise, not-for-profit cooperative supermarket. It really is about the social disconnect between food, communities in urban settings and their relationship to rural growers — connecting communities in London to rural growers. Really important. So I’m committing to potatoes; I’m committing to milk; I’m committing to leeks and broccoli — all very important stuff. I’ve kept the tiles; I’ve kept the floors; I’ve kept the trunking; I’ve got in some recycled fridges; I’ve got some recycled tills; I’ve got some recycled trolleys. I mean, the whole thing is is super-sustainable. In fact, I’m trying and I’m going to make this the most sustainable supermarket in the world. That’s zero food waste. And no one’s doing that just yet. In fact, Sainsbury’s, if you’re watching, let’s have a go. Try it on. I’m going to get there before you. So nature doesn’t create waste doesn’t create waste as such. Everything in nature is used up in a closed continuous cycle with waste being the end of the beginning, and that’s been something that’s been nurturing me for some time, and it’s an important statement to understand. If we don’t stand up and make a difference and think about sustainable food, think about the sustainable nature of it, then we may fail. But, I wanted to get up and show you that we can do it if we’re more responsible. Environmentally conscious businesses are doable. They’re here. You can see I’ve done three so far; I’ve got a few more to go. The idea is embryonic. I think it’s important. I think that if we reduce, reuse, refuse and recycle — right at the end there — recycling is the last point I want to make; but it’s the four R’s, rather than the three R’s — then I think we’re going to be on our way. So these three are not perfect — they’re ideas. I think that there are many problems to come, but with help, I’m sure I’m going to find solutions. And I hope you all take part. Thank you very much. (Applause)

65 Replies to “Arthur Potts Dawson: A vision for sustainable restaurants

  1. I love all the Talks about food and the restaurant industry lately! I'm gleaning all kinds of ideas for my future restaurant 🙂

  2. @mazdaplz It's too bad carbon isn't the largely contributing factor in climate change, though. Water vapor is, and there is an ass ton more of that than CO2.

  3. Yes, Arthur, let's try to make the entropy of a system zero….

    Notice how he conveniently doesn't explain the cost to implement these "waste-reducing" measures. I'd love to drive a Toyota Prius to save on gas and emissions, but because it's $7000 more than a Honda Civic, I'd have to drive the Prius for 20 years to make it cost effective over the Civic.

  4. In This Video: Some dude talks to us about pure luxury entertainment producing needless waste.

    Que people pretending to care.

  5. Haha, "nature does not produce waste". I guess we don't need the sun then, since our system is closed and nothing ever goes to waste.

  6. Great idea's but I'd love to see an advancement, for instance solar panels used as sunshades like certain projects for an outdoor area and a chemical treatment facility in the toilets/head sink device in order to really pull in as much from the waste as possible.

  7. Before we elite nerdy folk rag on his presentation, we have to see that his point isn't necessarily just centered around sustainable restaurants, it's a general idea of sustainability and how if something so wasteful as a restaurant can function 90% under it's own power, from mental to kinetic, then the idea should be able to be molded into different situations, locations, across the board. Whatever happened to TED watchers being inquisitive?

  8. I think it's great ,i wish there were more people like him who could make it work,I want to spend the rest of my life being involved in the same idea's,Organic farming,doing something with waste,all of it is doable and living like that has challenges especially if you have not tried it but the rewards would be worth it to me.

  9. @shintsu01
    My point was, he's making the same boring old naturalistic fallacy that so many people who whip out the "sustainable" buzzword are making. Nature produces far more waste than us, it's just that for the most part one man's waste is another man's food since that's how natural selection works.

    If nature truly produced *no* waste there'd be no need for the sun to sustain life on this planet.

    I'm not making a very clever agument, I just though it was funny to point out.

  10. @punkposer These are YT watchers, not TED watchers! If I want a proper comment discussion, I head over there – it's a much better crowd!

  11. @Kiddolinfen09 Well it's either that or the food grown from animal feces, assuming you're eating sustainably, otherwise you're eating food grown from ammonia and natural gas. I know I'd rather choose the natural and sustainable choice.

  12. @MelkorHimself Makes you think, the government should subsidize or put some sort of incentive for manufacturers to lower prices on these eco-friendly cars, instead of using it up on other more questionable things.

  13. @MrCattlehunter That's really beside the point. When we're talking about waste we're talking about unsustainability and pollution. Nature doesn't create either of those. You're technicality true or not, does not affect the matter. Nature's waste doesn't pollute like human waste almost always does. Because in nature waste is food for another organism, which makes it cyclical, and not technically waste. He's really just saying stop producing things in a linear mindset, so we can live sustainably.

  14. @Gameboob Government subsidies are always a terrible idea. They don't come out of thin air; we pay them anyway through our taxes. The only way for more people to buy hybrid cars is to let the market develop more competition, which will reduce prices.

  15. @MelkorHimself The market doesn't work perfectly. If we would take the market take its course it will never change.. because staying with the old cars is cheaper. I'd be willing to pay twice the taxes if it means saving nature

  16. @MelkorHimself I understand the money comes from taxes and therefore people are actually paying for something through taxes, which is less efficient. However, it would create the incentive for a lot more people to buy these cars in the short term which is arguably important for environmental matters such as pollution that have been impacting the earth as long as it has.

  17. @MelkorHimself Essentially it's whether or not the it matters more in the short term than the long term. Because subsidies will lower the cost the next year. Marketplace competition, however, will take years for the same drop in prices to occur. And as long as the subsidies don't harm the advancement of the technology, which attributes to the larger drops in price, then subsidies *are* a good idea.

  18. @MelkorHimself I'm curious, where'd you hear that? I wouldn't be surprised if all this time we've been going after the wrong thing. I've heard that some gaseous sulfur compound contributes more to GCC than CO2 but I haven't bothered researching.

  19. @Gameboob Climate change is an unstoppable force. Humans have added their own pollution to the atmosphere, but it's been minimal. Nothing we do can stop another ice age from occurring, and nothing we do can certainly prevent solar activity from affecting Earth's climate, which it does so immensely.

  20. so im all for re using stuff but you have to realize. recycling is worse for the environment then just burying the stuff in a landfill. remember most recycling processes involve melting/burning the stuff up, which last time i checked that involves the use of energy (which everyone is saying we are not supposed to be wasting) also depending on the material it lets out toxic fumes, not to mention its impossible to make the same quality of goods with recycled material.

  21. @Kiddolinfen09 I supposed I'm not as turned-off when I'm reminded. I know it's natural so I don't gag at the thought. This hardly makes anyone a twerp…

  22. @Kiddolinfen09 I don't see anything wrong with depopulation. As long as it's done without harm. Killing off people would be wrong but preventing people from reproducing is something worth considering. We can't keep growing in size and live so ignorant of the condition of the planet. But what does GCC have to do with depopulation? What's the link? Who's going to die if GCC doesn't exist?

  23. @librariannz But you can't live sustainably as we are. We need to change but we'll have to compromise. The planet can only sustain so many humans. It's likely we'll have to reduce our numbers *and* live environmentally conscious.

  24. @Kiddolinfen09 The idea isn't breathing. It's the fact that there is much less forest than there used to be and that we are overwhelmingly increasing the heat of the earth slowly.
    .5 degrees C will be a horrible horrible dilemma. This is understood by cosmologists, chemists, physicists and cosmologists. As well as many many other intelligent beings.
    It's not a big conspiracy.
    How many of the people living in the US do you think have 12 children?
    That number is greater in Africa.

  25. @Kiddolinfen09 Do you even care for the starving children in Africa? If we increase the standard of living and provide condoms then the population will obviously decrease in third world countries. Unless they're conspiracy condoms! BUM BUM BUUUM

  26. This is the same kind of person who preaches recycling and then gets a sweet black market deal on Brazilian hardwood floors for his San Francisco loft.

  27. @Kiddolinfen09 And we've discovered that the carbon levels lag behind the temperature changes, so the entire premise behind global warming has become nullified.

  28. @Kiddolinfen09 Of course a large number of people here are poor. There is still problems in this society as well and admittedly a large amount.
    However, the situation in third world countries is that which the birth rate is higher along with the mortality rate. There is a living condition issue in which the people get comfort from sex(just as people do here). And with careful planning and use of a budget, the area's rates will lower. There is a problem with government there also.
    ex. Haiti

  29. @Kiddolinfen09 The people who are poor in our society often have greater access to cheap ways to not get someone pregnant or not get pregnant. IE Morning after pills.
    Most families have around 3 children. There was a TED talk about it.
    /watch?v=OT9poH_D2Iw

  30. @Kiddolinfen09 Quite possibly. Or the education system in both is less effective. (IE most modern countries are ahead of the US in education.)

  31. @Kiddolinfen09 Well there are some stupid people there, but when I compare the UK to the US there is no competition.
    The average IQ is different to my knowledge.

  32. I'm a total geek when it comes to sustainability and looking at the whole process of any resource we use (from gaining it, to using it and getting rid of the rest). So I'm happy to see somebody is thinking the same way and tries to find doable applications for that kind of approach. 😀

  33. what about profesor wansiks mindless eating?
    I love the idea of a sustainable restaurant, but as much as I like to believe the consumer should be more active, I believe they should only have a feeling of active decision. The different cues from the restauran hoewver, should maybe be directing the decision making
    any special thought on that part?

  34. It's one thing to want sustainable things, another to do it. Small business owners might save money, but it isn't something that could be viable in the long run. Everyone needs to earn money.

  35. I love talks like this: essentially saying "Here's a problem. I don't know a silver bullet to fix it, but I can do something at least". Putting money where your mouth is. Hats off to you!

  36. people in the food-service industry are usually so dumb. im glad this is changing with this emerging generation.
    -NYC Line Cook

  37. @punkposer Dude U gotta go to there website to find them………. over here da community ain't that inquisitive!!!

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