What makes a restaurant sustainable, and why does it matter?
Let’s address the second question first. With its emphasis on super-efficient operations, sustainability brings obvious financial advantages to virtually any business, which is why is has become a core consideration for successful businesses worldwide. In the commercial sector, restaurants are amongst the heaviest users of both energy and water, so they stand to gain even more than the average business from implementing sustainability measures. In addition, market research indicates that consumer interest in sustainable food production is on the rise, which makes the case for restaurant sustainability even more compelling from a purely economic point of view.
Profits aside, their public profile and popularity enables restaurants to easily assume a leadership role in promoting sustainable practices. They can also positively impact the local and global economy and environment through sustainable sourcing and operations choices.
To answer the first question, let’s take a look at seven of the hottest trends in restaurant sustainability, and how some of the most sustainable eating establishments across the country are implementing them.
- Local food sourcing. Seattle restaurateur Maria Hines is passionate about supporting the local organic farming community. Ninety-five percent of the food she serves in her three restaurants — Tilth, Golden Beetle and Agrodolce — is organically grown and local. She even lists links to the farms on her website.
- On-site growing. Recently designated the “Greenest Restaurant in America” by the Green Restaurant Association, Chicago’s Uncommon Ground restaurant features a 2,500-square-foot urban farm on its rooftop. The produce they grow on-site is supplemented with food sourced from local farms. “Our mission is to stand as a working model for other restaurants, businesses and home owners,” says owner Helen Cameron, “to show what is possible within an urban environment.”
- Sustainability education. Clayton Chapman, proprietor of The Grey Plume in Omaha, Nebraska, is leveraging the interest in local food production his restaurant has generated to work with a neighborhood development project to initiate a sustainable garden. “There are a lot of young families and multiple-children families in the neighborhood, so it’s a great learning tool,” he says.
- Sustainable seafood. While seafood is a healthy and delicious choice, the decline of global food fish populations is a subject of great concern. Portland’s Bamboo Sushi proves that with careful sourcing, seafood connoisseurs can have their fish and eat it, too. They do their homework to ensure that all thefish they serve comes from populations that are plentiful and in good health, and that the fish are caught in an environmentally ethical manner.
- Renewable energy. Green Sage Café in Asheville, North Carolina utilizes solar thermal panels for water heating, as well as photovoltaics to power their lighting. They have also implemented a large number of energy-efficiency measures to get the most out of their renewable energy systems. Wind is another renewable energy solution that restaurant owners can take advantage of where space permits. Root Down Denver is a restaurant powered exclusively by the wind, and also features recycled and reclaimed interior décor and rooftop and patio gardens.
- Recycling and food waste composting. For Spike Gjerde, chef proprietor of Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore, waste management is a top priority. In addition to recycling all plastic, glass, metal and paper waste, his insistence on recycling all food scraps makes his restaurant a zero-waste facility. Gjerde contracts with a food waste hauler to take all kitchen and table scraps to a local farm for composting. Even the oyster shells are saved and returned to Chesapeake Bay as part of a native oyster regeneration program.
- Water conservation. Minneapolis supper club The Red Stag is the first LEED-CI registered restaurant in Minnesota. In addition to many energy efficiency measures, they have implemented a computer-controlled monitoring system that has helped them reduce their water consumption by 70 percent.
It’s important to note that each of these restaurants has made an effort to embrace a holistic approach to sustainability. Instead of implementing just one sustainable practice (like local food sourcing), they are going all-out to green up all aspects of their business. In the process, they are enjoying incredible customer loyalty, not to mention lots of publicity. Kudos to them, and to the other restaurants across the country that are doing their part to be environmentally responsible!
About the author:
Ezra Adler is the Ecommerce Marketing Director for Culinary Depot Inc., located in Monsey, NY. An online retailer for restaurant equipment, Culinary Depot has a large selection commercial equipment and kitchen supplies.