Restaurants haven't always had the best reputation for environmental friendliness. They use a tremendous amount of energy and water and produce vast mounds of waste. However, more environmentally conscious people are entering the restaurant industry every day. These new restaurateurs grew up with recycling bins at school and home. They know the dangers of pollution and the growing threat of climate change—and many of them are prepared to do something about it.
It’s Not Easy Being Green
Kermit was right: It’s not easy being green. For a restaurant, going green can feel like climbing Mount Everest—insurmountable. You can’t just instantly upgrade all your restaurant equipment to Energy Star models (though it would be awesome if you could). Instilling new habits in your staff, such as separating paper and plastic, is a gradual process. Going green takes time and patience. The good news is that a lot of green measures are easy to implement and won’t break the bank. Here are a few tips that the Green Restaurant Association recommends.
Get rid of Styrofoam: Styrofoam in most restaurants is found in the form of take-out boxes, soup containers, and coffee cups. These products take more than a million years to biodegrade, and they contaminate the environment and choke animals in the process. Ditch the styrofoam in favor of recycled paper products or compostable goods.
Install flow restrictors on faucets: These handy devices limit the amount of water used in handwashing sinks, dishwashers, and dish sinks. BR Guest Restaurants of New York City saved 5 million gallons of water annually by installing flow restrictors as part of their "Go Green" efforts.
Purchase sustainable foods: These are food products that support the long-term maintenance of ecosystems and agriculture for future generations. Organic foods reduce the use of toxic synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, while locally grown foods curb the pollution associated with long-distance transportation. Connect with your local farmers and find out what produce they carry during different times of the year. You might have to get more creative with your seasonal menu and pricing, but you can use the opportunity to inform customers about your green efforts.
Another way to go green at your restaurant is to grow your own food and compost your waste. Hyperlocal food—produce grown in your restaurant garden—is among one of the hottest menu trends at the moment. If your restaurant doesn't have space for a full-fledged garden, you can grow a surprising amount of food in containers and raised beds or even on a rooftop, if that is an option.
Composting food waste is a natural fit for restaurants that have gardens, and it's easy to do once you have a station set up outside. If you don't have a garden, but still want to recycle food waste (and other compostable products) into compost, connect with local farmers or garden clubs and arrange for someone to pick up the compost periodically.
Recycle and Reuse
While gardening and composting are not always practical options for restaurants smack in the middle of downtown, recycling can be done almost anywhere. According to Chris Giarraputo, Executive Corporate Chef at BR Guest, the key to recycling in a restaurant is to have stations set up in all areas, including the kitchen, wait station, bar, and office. Once you have recycling bins everywhere, reinforce the behavior frequently with your staff and use signage to encourage customer recycling. It may take time to change habits, but it will go a long way in your efforts to go green.
Promote recycling with your purchases as well. Almost anything you use in a café—from disposable utensils to your furniture—can be made from recycled materials. At the very least, you can look for more reusable options to reduce paper waste. When that's not possible, there are great biodegradable alternatives to many plastic goods available now.
Go Green When You Clean
One area that's often overlooked when companies go green is the cleaning closet. Choosing non-toxic chemicals and biodegradable soaps will promote the health of the planet, your customers, and staff. Many consumers aren't aware of the damage many traditional cleaning supplies can do, so highlighting that you are using eco-friendly alternatives is a great opportunity to get them excited about your efforts.
Big Ticket Items to Help You Go Green
Equipment will have a huge effect on your energy usage over the course of a year. According to Energy Star's website, commercial kitchens can use up to 10 times more energy than other commercial spaces. Much of that energy is wasted, which is basically like money burning right out your exhaust hood. If you are looking to open a restaurant and have the capital, or need upgrades, consider purchasing the following items, which help restaurants save energy, money, and the environment:
- Low-flush toilets
- Energy Star appliances, such as fryers, steamers, broilers, griddles, ovens, coolers, freezers, and HVAC systems
- Energy-efficient ventilation
These are just a few steps you can take to begin your journey to becoming a green restaurant. Find more information about the Green Restaurant Association's environmental guidelines, and see what else you can do to become an eco-friendly establishment.