The salad on your plate may be green, but what about the restaurant that is serving you that leafy appetizer? How does it rate on an eco-friendly scale? Do its practices help reduce its environmental impact, or is it wilting in that category?
Is Your Favorite Restaurant Green?
One way to rate a restaurant is to check if it is certified by the Green Restaurant Association (GRA). The non-profit organization has been helping restaurants across the country achieve environmental sustainability since 1990. All Certified Green Restaurants™ are listed on the GRA site, whether it's a burger joint in California or an expo center in Tennessee.
In order to be certified, a restaurant must meet certain standards:
- Have a full-scale recycling program
- Be free of polystyrene foam (better known as Styrofoam)
- Host an annual education program
- Meet certain points standards established by the GRA
Points are given according to the restaurant's compliance with expectations in the the following categories:
- Chemical and pollution reduction
- Sustainable food
- Sustainable furnishings and building materials
The system gets down to specifics. To illustrate, we'll look at how points are rewarded for water efficiency. The GRA looks at water use in landscaping, the kitchen and the restrooms. Let's say we're checking out a local diner's restrooms. Points will be rewarded as follows:
- Ultra high-efficiency toilets (uses 1.0 gallon per flush) = 3 points
- High-efficiency toilets (1.28 gallons per flush) = 2 points
- Dual flush handle toilet (up to 1.6 gallons per flush) = 1 point
- Composting toilet = 4.25 points
- Waterless urinals = 4.25 points
A restaurant must have at least 100 points in order to be certified the first year. Because the GRA encourages constant improvement, the restaurant must increase its points each year to maintain certification. The second year requires 110 points, the third 120, etc.
Because the average restaurant can generate up to 150,000 pounds of garbage each year, GRA places emphasis on waste diversion and reduction. High points are rewarded for recycling and reuse.
One of the functions of the GRA is to make it easier for restaurants to make conscientious purchases. Whether a restaurant is in the market for spray valves, steam cookers, take-out containers or trays, the GRA Endorsed Products Guide points purchasers in the direction of the best environmental solutions the industry has to offer.
The GRA also encourages restaurants to buy local and organic foods, non-toxic products for cleaning and green construction supplies when possible.
But what is your role in all this? The simple answer is to support restaurants that are GRA-certified or making efforts to be more sustainable. Also, you can encourage your favorite restaurants to get involved in GRA's program by leaving a suggestion card with your bill. The card explains that the customer is concerned about the environment and would feel more comfortable patronizing a green restaurant. It gives contact information and lists some of the benefits of becoming involved with the GRA. The more customers talk about going green, the more of a priority it will become to the restaurant's management.
A few other tips to have a green restaurant experience:
- Bring your own reusable to-go container.
- Walk or take public transportation to the restaurant.
- Order portions you are able to finish. Restaurants estimates that about 25 percent of food served is left uneaten.
- Opt for menu items using locally grown or organic ingredients.