From: Bridgette Meinhold, Low Impact Living, More from this Affiliate
Published July 23, 2009 10:39 AM

Greener Dining with the Green Restaurant Association

You buy organic, shop at the farmer’s market weekly, grow your own tomatoes, compost and recycle, but does your favorite restaurant do all that as well? A long standing certification organization called the Green Restaurant Association (GRA) has been working with restaurants for almost twi decades now to help restaurants go green. Their certification has become more sophisticated over the years and not only helps restaurants by providing a framework for sustainable operations, but also helps diners find and support those restaurants who are doing a good job. Read on to find out what the GRA certification means and also check out LIL’s database of Organic Restaurants & Groceries.

The GRA certification is based on a point total similar to LEED green building certifications. A restaurant needs a minimum number of points to qualify and the more points above that minimum the more sustainable the restaurant is. There are three different tracks for certification - New Builds, Existing Restaurants and Events, each with its own seperate requirements and point levels. A brand new restaurant built from scratch must achieve more points than an existing restaurant because it includes green building techniques, while Events is geared towards the food service portion of conferences and meetings.

The most common certification you will come across is for existing restaurants. For an existing restaurant to qualify they must have a full-scale recycling program, be free of polystyrene foam (like styrofoam ToGo containers), hold a yearly education program and qualify for at least 100 points and meet the minimum requirements in each category. Achieving the bare minimum of 100 points will land a restaurant a Two-Star Certified Green Restaurant label. It takes 175 points to achieve Three-Star status and then a whopping 470 points to get Four-Star which is the highest level. A restaurant must also continue to improve annually and achieve more points in order to retain the certification.

Points are collected for sustainable actions and activities in the following seven categories:

* Water Efficiency
* Waste Reduction & Recycling
* Sustainable Furnishings and Building Materials
* Sustainable Food
* Energy
* Disposables
* Chemical & Pollution Reduction

Water Efficiency - Restaurants achieve points in water efficiency by installing low-flow faucets, toilets, and appliances in the kitchen and in restrooms. They can also reduce outdoor water usage with efficient irrigation and use linens instead of disposables. For even more points, the restaurant could recycle its gray water, collect rainwater and treat wastewater on site.

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Waste Reduction & Recycling - The goal is for restaurants to become zero-waste facilities, meaning no waste is sent to the landfill, so it is either reused, recycled or composted. Restaurants get specific points for all of the items they can recycle. Then there are points for reducing packaging from vendors, encouraging diners to bring mugs, bags or containers and more. (This does not include ToGo containers, which is included in a separate category.)

Sustainable Furnishings & Building Materials - This section is most appropriate for New Builds, but existing restaurants can also take part by purchasing materials and furnishings for the restaurant that are made from recycled, salvaged, renewable, FSC certified or reused materials.

Sustainable Food - Restaurants create an important demand for organic, local and sustainably raised food. The point level depends on how much and where from the food in sourced. Organic foods, free-range, vegetarian, sustainably harvested, regional and local are all important.

Energy - Energy efficiency, renewable energy, and carbon offsets can help a restaurant reduce its carbon footprint. There is a long list of changes a restaurant can make to upgrade its equipment and reduce its energy demand in the kitchen, heating, cooling, refrigeration, lighting and more. Even more points can be earned for carbon offsets, green power from a utility and on-site renewable energy generation.

Disposables - This category encourages restaurants to source disposable products that are not made with virgin resources. Points can be achieved for disposables that are made from recycled products or bio based (compostable) materials. This not only includes ToGo containers, but also toilet paper, paper towels and office paper.

Chemical & Pollution Reduction - This large category covers everything from how diners travel to the restaurant, what type of land it sits on, what kind of vehicles the restaurant owns and operates, waste vegetable oil, paints, chemicals, cleaning supplies, light pollution and more. This section covers a lot but is geared towards creating healthier indoor and outdoor environments, better air quality and cleaner water.

This article was reproduced with the kind permission of Low Impact Living.

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