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The greening of your favorite restaurant

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By Eileen Bowers

Americans spend 44-percent of their food budget on food consumed away from home, approximately $1,000 per person annually.  The needs and wants of consumers to eat out offer restaurants a great opportunity to reduce their ecological footprint and affect change.

This call for action to affect change was set forth at the 1997 Kyoto Climate Summit when 1,500 scientists from 63 countries composing the Union of Concerned Scientists appealed to reason:  “Human activities inflict harsh and often irreversible damage on the environment and on critical resources. If not checked, many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms.” 

This call for action can be summed up:  “There is only one responsible choice – to act now.”

To help turn the tide and shift our course to balance, The Green Restaurant Association (GRA) is working to create an environmentally sustainable restaurant industry.  This industry sector accounts for 4-percent of the U.S. GDP and the GRA is empowering restaurants and their customers with clear solutions to combat environmental issues.  The GRA’s Certified Green Restaurant program provides a user friendly method of rewarding restaurants and food service at events with points on each of the following categories:

Energy and water – efficiency and conservation

Waste – reducing output, increasing stock of reusable items, recycling and composting

Disposables – use products made from bio-based materials or recycled materials and no Styrofoam

Chemical and pollution reduction – decrease contribution to air and water pollution and soil degradation

Sustainable food – support sustainable, organic, local family farms

Sustainable furnishings and building materials – make environmentally responsible purchasing decisions for furnishings and building materials

A Certified Green Restaurant must meet minimum points in each category; have a full-scale recycling program, not utilize Styrofoam, provide annual education and routine communication with employees regarding certification.

If you patronize a restaurant that is not a Certified Green Restaurant, talk with the owner/manager or send an e-mail.  Here’s a sample:

Dear Restaurant Owner,

Like many people these days, I am very concerned with issues regarding our food and environment.  It is important to me and millions like me to patronize restaurants that are improving their environmental practices.  I’d like to see your restaurant become a Certified Green Restaurant.  I encourage you to contact the non-profit organization The Green Restaurant Association at outreach@dinegreen.com or 617-737-4422.

Agreeably, certification by the GRA will take time and true commitment by a restaurant and in these tough economic times, might not be doable to complete in full at any brisk pace.   Through energy and water efficiency and conservation alone, there is however money to be saved.  

Knowing that a restaurant you patronize is at least willing to tackle two of the main concerns of this certification, implementing a recycling program and eliminating Styrofoam, are two good reasons to continue dining at that establishment.  If your favorite restaurant does not engage in either of these two practices, please encourage them to affect change and ACT NOW.