From: Michael Oshman, Green Restaurant Association
Published December 3, 2007 06:46 PM

The Greening of Restaurants

Boston - The restaurant industry in the United States is the largest consumer of electricity in the retail sector, accounting for one out of every three kilowatts in your favorite retail destination. As more people dine out, Americans spend about half of their food budgets at restaurants. Besides the government, the restaurant industry is the largest employer in this country, accounting for 12.8 million people. Lastly, the restaurant industry impacts about 1/10th of the American economy, making its impact larger than the total of many countries in the world.

Now, why is this important?

Because this industry has such a large financial and environmental impact worldwide, it is vital that it become environmentally sustainable. Back in 1990, the Green Restaurant Association was founded to help the restaurant industry achieve environmental sustainability through its environmental guidelines, including sustainable food, green building, nontoxic chemicals, energy efficiency, water efficiency, recycling, composting, recycled packaging, and more. The Green Restaurant Association, 17 years later, is an international nonprofit organization helping restaurants in over 30 states in the USA, in addition to Canada and overseas. The GRA works with all sectors of the restaurant industry to create sustainability from consumers to restaurant owners; from distributors to manufacturers; from utilities to architects.

When one sits down to eat at a restaurant, they generally do not think about the fuel efficiency of the trucks that delivered the food, chemicals, and packaging. They usually do not think about the water efficiency of the machines that will wash their dishes; nor do they think of the toxicity of the cleaning chemicals that are used on the floor, bathrooms, and tables. But all of these factors and more go into the total environmental impact of this industry.

With the world’s largest database of environmental solutions for the restaurant industry, the GRA engages restaurants through environmental assessments, consulting, education, and certification programs to help each restaurant proceed through a series of environmental steps each year. By helping the restaurants, the GRA is interfacing with their distributors, helping them carry more green products. All of this sends a ripple up through the market, so that in 2008, there are manufacturers now looking to the GRA for how they should produce their products.

As with other sectors, it is the end-user consumer who is driving this demand. Consumer behavior across the market has demonstrated that people are willing to put their money where their mouth is. As consumers look for the organic label to know that that product was not grown with toxic pesticides; as people look for the FSC label when searching for sustainable wood; so, too, consumers can go to dinegreen.com to search for Certified Green Restaurants in their area. Some cities have quite of a variety of Certified Green Restaurants. America’s largest privately held coffee chain, the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, has over 200 of their locations as Certified Green Restaurants, mainly in Southern California. Boston and NYC boast scores of Certified Green Restaurant dining options. From fine dining to fast food, customers can find Certified restaurants in their area. For areas that don’t yet have a plethora of Certified Green Restaurant choices, consumers can pass our GRA suggestion cards (dinegreen.com), encouraging restaurants to go green.

Some CGR’s are Near-Zero Waste restaurants via recycling, composting, and diverting waste grease to biodiesel. The GRA helps restaurants like these set up diversion programs and purchasing programs to achieve a goal such as this. Other CGR’s have 95% or more Certified organic ingredients. Some focus on local purchasing; others have very efficient equipment. The GRA creates a customized strategy for each of its clients to proceed through new environmental changes every year.

There are many choices that a consumer can make to become more environmentally responsible. Building a home, purchasing a car, choosing a career. All of these are big decisions and good ones to make in considering their environmental impact. Choosing a restaurant is not a monumental environmental decision. It is one of those easy things consumers can do many times a week” to choose to patronize the restaurant that is certified green.

The decision also does not have to be hard for a restaurant. The GRA makes the process of change easy for them, and often the restaurants are rewarded with increased patrons and loyalty, higher employee morale, media exposure and a sense of being on the right side of history.

After seventeen years of hard work, the GRA is busy growing and responding to demand from some of the largest chains in America. The GRA is proving that an industry can truly become more sustainable each year, in all of its sectors.

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