First, it was rising food costs. Now it’s the recession that’s hurled the restaurant industry further into this economic tailspin. So when owners and managers are scrambling to cut costs, the thought of investing existing capital—especially in sustainable technology—seems ludicrous. But for those of us who think like President Obama, investing in a green future today might be one of the best investments your restaurant can make.
If you’re unsure what to do beyond recycling, the Green Restaurant Association (GRA)
might be helpful. Started in 1990 by executive director Michael Oshman, the GRA is a non-profit organization that helps restaurants of all sizes and institutions adopt sustainable practices in a cost-effective way and in ways that’s appropriate for your restaurant. The GRA boasts of the country’s largest database of environmental solutions along with the only “green” certification for restaurants that comply with GRA’s strict guidelines. For instance, all Certified Green Restaurants must recycle and be Styrofoam-free. A restaurant earns operation points in different environmental categories, and must earn at least 100 points to be officially certified. Once a restaurant achieves its certification, it must acquire another ten points the following year to maintain certification.
If this all sounds daunting, that’s where the GRA consultants step in to smooth out the process. While many products on the market claim to be “green,” many are not or have negligible environmental benefits. GRA consultants “have done the research and leg work to determine which cleaning chemicals are really non-toxic, which spray valves are the most energy efficient, what to-go containers are really made of post-consumer recycled content, etc.” says Colleen Oteri, GRA’s Communication’s Manager. But it’s not just about the certification process: services such as composting, recycling, and replacing equipment are difficult to manage on one’s own. The GRA works with all appropriate vendors to ensure that these services are managed correctly.
Many of these practices, however, require the initial investment of time, money, and staff education, but can help save the restaurant money down the road. Some restaurants that have begun the process are Mario Batali’s latest venture with Nancy Silverton—Osteria Mozza in Los Angeles
, Emmanuel Verstraeten’s Rouge Tomate
in New York City, and nearly all the Le Pain Quotidiens
across New York. The benefits of many sustainable and energy-saving equipment can help reduce your overhead and thus your bottom-line, showing that being green can make perfect business sense.