« January 2008 Table of Contents
Trend Watch: Restaurants go green
GRA makes environmental decisions easier, step by step
By Lauren Kramer
January 01, 2008
When the National Restaurant Association created a task
force to implement its environmental initiative last May, the
goal was to encourage the 935,000 U.S. restaurants to conserve
natural resources. In an industry worth $537 billion, the
initiative hopes to identify practices that conserve energy,
water and other natural resources. The NRA says simple tasks
like recycling along with more involved ones, like using
sustainable materials and alternative energy sources, would
also reduce restaurants' operational costs.
It's a positive step that the NRA is jumping on the
eco-friendly bandwagon. But thanks in part to the assistance of
the Green Restaurant Association, a few restaurants already
have a solid foundation based on sustainability. The GRA,
founded in 1990, works with some 330 restaurants in the United
States, Canada and Ireland that agree to follow some of its 11
"They all make a legal and contractual commitment to
implement four changes a year," explains Michael Oshman,
executive director of the GRA in Boston. "Unless they meet this
commitment, their GRA certification gets cut off."
The GRA's guidance fee starts at $700 and can go as high as
$4,250, depending on how much assistance a restaurant
George's at the Cove in La Jolla, Calif., has worked with
the GRA for the past seven years, implementing five steps a
"In the beginning it was the most obvious things we dealt
with, like recycling plastic and glass," says owner George
Hauer. Between breaking the old habits of his 180 employees,
setting up recycling bins and creating procedures for this
task, it was no easy feat in a restaurant that accommodates up
to 395 diners, he says.
Hauer uses recycled paper products when possible, and has
installed low-flow toilets and low-flow dishwasher heads to
reduce water usage. Compressors attached to his restaurant
equipment keep them running more efficiently, and the entire
restaurant has been rewired to use low-voltage bulbs and to
ensure that all lighting is on a timer or motion sensor.
These are among a variety of steps the restaurant has taken
to be more eco-friendly. Has it cost Hauer more?
"I don't know," he confesses. "Yes, it's cost some money.
But the reason we do this is so we know ourselves that we're
doing the right thing. It's not a marketing device at all."
Other restaurants are more vocal about their environmentally
friendly efforts. At the Bayside Restaurant in Westport, Mass.,
owner Bob Carroll Sr. is serious about recycling and even touts
the program on his menu.
"We have a great big composter onsite, and we recycle
everything - glass, cardboard, plastic and tin," says Carroll.
"To do this, we need separate dumpsters for cardboard and
glass, which adds $200 a month to our removal costs. But we do
it to save the environment - it's a moral thing."
The restaurant uses solar lighting on the outdoor pathways
and energy-efficient light bulbs, mostly compact fluorescents,
inside the restaurant. Bottled water has been eliminated at
Bayside, and all take-out paper products are biodegradable.
"It used to be difficult to source green suppliers, but it's
getting easier," says Carroll. "I just sat down one day and
realized the tremendous amount of waste that a restaurant
generates. We thought if we could get it recycled, it would be
far better for everyone."
Carroll believes the program may attract more diners.
"A lot of people came in to applaud our green efforts, and
we had several articles in local papers that generated a lot of
interest," he says. "Yes, it cuts into the profit margin a
little bit, but it's something that should be done for the
Reducing or eliminating waste is an ideal some restaurants
aspire to, but at Grille Zone in Boston, owner Ben Prentice has
almost achieved it since the opening last July.
"We throw out less than a 55-gallon garbage bag of trash a
day," he says proudly. "Most days, it's half or three quarters
of that, comprised of items we take in that just aren't
compostable yet, such as plastic wrapping straps, food-handling
gloves and Saran wrap. And we have no dumpster out back."
Prentice, 48, says he has always been environmentally aware,
but that initially when he planned his quick-casual restaurant,
eco-friendliness was not his goal.
"We wanted high-quality food at a very affordable price
point, and the best way to do that was to ensure the food was
never frozen and therefore local," he says.
As he found those local suppliers, he began exploring green
equipment and ultimately decided not to purchase a dishwasher,
and instead to serve his food on compostable disposable
"That's how we realized we could have almost zero waste," he
explains. "We've dramatically reduced our carbon footprint, our
energy usage and our waste chain, and today we have as low a
waste stream as is possible."
Grille Zone's cutlery is made from potato starch, and its
plates from sugarcane pulp. Three recycled brandy barrels in
the restaurant inform customers where to dispose of their
"It's not as expensive, difficult or time-consuming to be
green as most people think it is, particularly with a resource
like the GRA, which has done so much legwork already," says
Prentice. "They've been a terrific partner, and I would hope
that other restaurants, and our guests, would look at our
accomplishments, learn from them and be encouraged to follow
The reality is that for a restaurant just opening, it makes
sense to go green from the get-go, because they have so much
work to do anyway, says the GRA's Oshman. "If a restaurant is
already open, it can be really challenging to take on these new
behaviors. Four a year doesn't sound like a lot, but it
Contributing Editor Lauren Kra m er lives in British