The other night, I met friends for drinks at a nearby restaurant and ordered my new favorite thing – a salad of arugula with roasted beets and goat cheese. I know some people are making “ewww, beets!” faces right about now, but that's not the point. Half this salad met my needs tastily, so I asked for a box to bring the rest home.
What the waitress brought wasn't your standard, mortifying, giant styrofoam container, but an appropriately-sized paperboard box, similar to a Chinese takeout container, only flatter. And once I finished the last of my even-better-than-last-night lunch this afternoon, I went to break down said container and discovered it was made from recycled paperboard and had a recycling emblem on it that I'm pretty sure indicated it was recyclable itself. As if that weren't cheering enough, I then noticed an emblem in a corner that said, “Endorsed by Green Restaurant Association.”
My curiosity piqued, I promptly typed in their URL, www.dinegreen.com, and found a window into a whole movement I'd, up until then, given no real thought to: the effort to green up restaurants.
Helping restaurants curb (resource!) consumption
According to a video on the GRA's site, Americans spend more than half their food-dollars on meals prepared outside the home, and the restaurant industry accounts for about 10 percent of the U.S. economy. With that in mind, the GRA's stated mission is to make that 10 percent ecologically sustainable.
The group's website is peppered with a few other stats that might make even a casual greenie want to eat in:
- The restaurant industry – the leading retail electricity consumer – accounts for 33 percent of all U.S. retail electricity use.
- Restaurants can produce between 50,000 and 100,000 pounds of garbage a year, 95 percent of which could be recycled or composted.
GRA, formed in 1990, is one of a handful of organizations extending a hand to help restaurateurs deal with issues like these in ways that are practical and cost-effective. A non-profit with nationwide reach, GRA works side-by-side with players all the way up and down the line, from restaurants to manufacturers to vendors, grassroots organizations to government and media, and finally, we, the dining public.
Restuarants can work through a number of steps the GRA provides (and most importantly, provides coaching for!) to become certified a “Green Restaurant.” That enables these restaurants to bill themselves as such, and that, GRA reasons, is good for business and employee morale, as well as the environment.
One appliance at a time
Among other services, the GRA's consultants can help restaurant owners find distributors, clarify product specifications, use incentive programs, and set up recycling programs.
The group's dinegreen.com site also has hints for things consumers should consider, as well as a list of certified restaurants around the country (not too many as yet, but I have no doubt the numbers are growing). The site even offers a card to print out and leave with your next check for those willing to “go there” and let their favorite restaurants know that they want them to go green.
Another key feature of the site is an online store, where restaurateurs and homeowners can purchase sustainable products – everything from Energy Star industrial refrigerators to an adapter that allows you to wash plastic bags in the dishwasher, from natural-fiber aprons to a bottle opener upcycled from a bicycle chain (yes, you read that right).
I don't know about you, but as a person who has a drawer overflowing with takeout menus and who loves the cultural and social buzz from a good meal on the town every now and then, it does my heart good to know GRA is out there, chipping away at these issues one restaurant appliance at a time, and giving diners something to think about. I think I'm going to hunt down one of their certified restaurants soon. Anybody already been to one?