As the retail industry’s largest energy consumer and greatest source of waste production, the restaurant world takes a serious toll on the environment. According to the Pacific Gas & Electric’s Food Service Technology Center, restaurants use nearly five times more energy per square foot than most commercial buildings. Inefficiencies in food preparation, food storage and water usage are main contributors to the problem. Restaurants also generate tremendous amounts of waste. On average, a restaurant can produce up to 150,000 pounds of garbage each year.
The food itself also raises several environmental concerns. Besides on-site energy consumption, transporting ingredients from thousands of miles away is yet another source of carbon emissions (although it is a smaller source than one would expect – estimated by some, such as BioRegional, at 10%). Factory farms and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are a huge non-point source of runoff pollution, degrading surface and groundwater supplies. High levels of nitrates and phosphorous in agricultural runoff can cause algal blooms downstream, severely depleting oxygen levels and resulting in vast “dead zones”. Additionally, high nitrate levels in well water can cause blue baby syndrome in infants and pregnant women, jeopardizing circulatory and heart health of newborns. Also, as the name implies, CAFOs keep animals in confined, unhygienic spaces that compromise the health and general well-being of the livestock pre-slaughter.
Institutionalized greening initiatives are emerging to reform restaurant procedures through energy and water conservation, waste reduction, and sustainable purchasing. Here are a few examples:
- Conserve Initiative The National Restaurant Association’s Conserve Initiative is an online resource developed by the restaurant industry for the restaurant industry. It helps restaurants to reduce energy, waste and water – driving down costs and leaving a lighter footprint on our environment. The program features an easy-to-use checklist, divided into six categories, with over 90 industry-tested best practices, and over 64 videos by industry experts providing demonstrations and explanations of best practices.
- Green Seal Green Seal is an independent non-profit organization offering third-party certification for products and companies that meet certain sustainability standards. Established in 1989, Green Seal sets nationally-recognized standards for green restaurants, basing its criteria in life-cycle analysis and scientific research. Green Seal certification is accompanied by site audits and regular monitoring to ensure that sustainability standards are met and upheld.
- Green Restaurant Association Founded in 1990, the Green Restaurant Association strives to create a sustainable restaurant industry by providing tools for restaurants, manufacturers, distributors, and consumers to make environmentally healthy choices. The GRA has certification standards to reward restaurants, restaurant renovations or new builds, and events through a point system that spans several environmental categories including waste reduction and recycling, sustainable food, and chemical and pollution reduction.
Image source: Poste Moderne Brasserie