The UAE’s thriving hospitality sector has long been recognized as a cornerstone of the country’s economy. Beyond its economic contribution, however, this industry has signiﬁcant potential to shape the future
of food by advancing sustainable food practices. Early engagement is undoubtedly a key factor in creating a more responsible and environmentally conscious food industry. On the positive side, hotels and restaurants are ideally placed to lead the way in adopting responsible practices, with broader industry efforts already gaining momentum, as the developments below conﬁrm.
As the host of COP28, the UAE has placed food systems high on the agenda this year. Two key pavilions -Food Systems and Food for Climate – are providing a platform for collaboration and discussion, bringing together government bodies, private sector stakeholders, NGOs and communities to address food-related challenges in the context of climate action.
Ne’ma, the National Food Loss and Waste Initiative, sits at the heart of the UAE’s commitment to tackling food loss and waste. Developed collaboratively by the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MOCCAE), and Emirates Foundation, Ne’ma’s primary objective is to reshape consumption behaviors and promote responsible social norms. Ne’ma actively engages with the hospitality sector, offering practical advice to reduce food loss and waste, such as displaying model portions of food at canteens and buffets, along with messaging that encourages waste reduction.
On a sub-national level, Dubai is championing sustainability within the hospitality industry. Its Department of Economy and Tourism introduced the Sustainable Tourism Stamp in 2023, requiring tourism establishments to meet 19 sustainability requirements that emphasize eco-friendly practices and responsible tourism, including those related to food.
Sustainable practices on the ground
The hospitality sector has the potential to lead the way in adopting sustainable practices. Numerous restaurants and hotels in the UAE have already taken signiﬁcant steps toward sustainability. An exemplary initiative is the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) ‘Recipe of Change,’ introduced in the UAE in collaboration with Goumbook and the Department of Economy and Tourism. With the participation of 22 hotels from major groups like Accor, Hilton, IHG and Marriott, this initiative aims to raise awareness about the environmental impact of food waste.
It also sets out to promote action toward achieving the UN’s sustainable development goal (SDG) 12.3, which targets halving per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels by 2030. Interventions range from room-based changes, like replacing traditional fruit baskets with loose fruit and reusable bags, to buffet-based measures, such as tent cards encouraging mindful portion sizes and lobby displays that promote responsible consumption.
Another noteworthy initiative is the Green Ramadan campaign, a collaborative effort between Hilton, UNEP, Winnow and Goumbook. Implemented in three hotels across Dubai, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, this initiative achieved remarkable results by utilizing Winnow technology to reduce food waste by an impressive 60 percent.
These initiatives not only minimize food waste but also demonstrate that sustainability can be seamlessly integrated into the hospitality experience, underscoring the sector’s leadership potential in adopting responsible practices.
Next steps: supporting local agriculture
Beyond helping to address the issue of food waste, the UAE’s hospitality sector is playing a growing role in supporting local agriculture. By prioritizing local and seasonal ingredients, hotels and restaurants are contributing to the sustainability of the entire food supply chain in an approach that reduces the carbon footprint associated with transportation, supports local farmers and promotes agricultural diversity.
As consumers and stakeholders, we should regard the hospitality sector as a valuable starting point for shaping sustainable food systems. By supporting and emulating the practices of this industry, we can collectively work toward a future where food is both abundant and environmentally conscious.