A Closer Look at Green Eating

Editor’s Note: Our Green Your Eats event has ended (check out the Boston Food Swap blog for the recap) but we have enlisted Michael Oshman of the Green Restaurant Association to provide tips for choosing sustainable restaurants all year long!

Putting solar on your home is a powerful and exciting environmental step. Getting into an electric car that takes you to work and play surely lowers your environmental footprint.  But these are not steps that everybody can do. Most of our ability to make significant environmental change happens in the small everyday steps. By now, most of us have heard about or are already doing things, such as recycling, using energy efficient lighting, buying safer cleaners, purchasing some organic food, and buying recycled paper.

One of the most important things to add to that list of easy, everyday steps that all of us could do to improve our individual and collective environmental impact… is to Dine Green. The environmental impact of our dining choices is monumental. The restaurant industry is the largest consumer of electricity in the retail sector. The average distance between the farm and your mouth is 1500 miles. Restaurants use hundreds of thousands of gallons of water in each location per year, and there are 1 million restaurants in the United States alone. So, every time we eat out, we are choosing a more sustainable or unsustainable world. From the coffee on the way to work, to the sandwich you grab for lunch, to the nice meal you have at your favorite restaurant, eating out is a regular parts of most people’s wife on a weekly if not daily basis. It is one of those green decisions that many people could make everyday.

Sustainable Liquor

Consider the statistics:

•  Each restaurant can produce a few hundred thousand pounds of garbage per year

•  95% of that waste can be recycled and composted

•  Lighting accounts for 13% of the total electricity each restaurant uses

•  90% of that lighting energy can be eliminated through the use of LED and CFL bulbs

•  The average consumer spends about 48% of his/her food budget eating out

Now, here is the good news. There are 850 Certified Green Restaurants® or restaurants that are in the midst of the certification process. Each 2 Star Certified Green Restaurant® has a full-scale recycling program, is Styrofoam-free, has earned a total of 100 Green Points™, and has earned 10 green points in each of the following categories: energy, water, waste, disposables, food, and chemicals. These Certified Green Restaurants®, which can be found on dinegreen.com and dinegreenboston.com, are not just claiming environmental accomplishments. They’ve gone through a rigorous process of certification, where each one of their steps has been vetted and is transparently available for you to see online in a Green Label, which describes every step, every point, achieved in each category. And each Certified Green Restaurant® goes through a recertification process each year. This is the ultimate in transparency that all of us consumers deserve in every sector of the market, not relying on a business, but instead relying on third-party certification standards that give us the confidence to make the proper green decisions.

Some of the most esteemed and famous restaurateurs in the world have made the decision to have their restaurants become Certified Green Restaurants®, such as Mario Batali, Eric Ripert, Rick Bayless, corporate cafeterias of Deutsche Bank, Royal Bank of Scotland, Chase Manhattan, New York Times headquarters, Microsoft, and more.  Right here in Boston, we have great Certified Green Restaurants® that can be found on dinegreenboston.com.

So what can you do?

If you would like to take your environmental ethic into your dining decisions, then I encourage you to consider the following:

•  Next time you dine out, start your search at DinegreenBoston.com

•  If you are dining in a restaurant that is not a Certified Green Restaurant®, leave them a green tip card. Click on the following link, http://dinegreen.com/downloads/2008Suggestioncard.pdf, where you can print these tip cards encouraging restaurants to become Certified Green Restaurants®

By encouraging restaurants to go through a transparent certification process, where the restaurants will be making environmental steps in energy, water, disposables, food, waste, and chemicals, you will not only be helping to lower their environmental impact, but you will also be sending a message to them that in 2012 transparency is an important part of the consumer market.  We’ve all seen restaurants that say at the bottom of their menu … “organic and local whenever possible” or “we recycle”.  We’ve been working with restaurants for 22 years, and let me tell you that “ organic and local whenever possible” is a very general term that for some restaurants means close to 99% and for other restaurants means close to 1%. The only way to know what a restaurant is doing is for the restaurant to proudly have their steps and accomplishments be communicated in a transparent fashion by being vetted by a third-party certification.

We’ve seen the power of consumers in New York and Boston and in 44 states and Canada encourage restaurants to meet the 2, 3, or 4 star Certified Green Restaurant® standards. Let us celebrate Boston’s Certified Green Restaurants®, and let’s encourage hundreds of other restaurants to follow their lead.

Michael Oshman, Founder and CEO of the Green Restaurant Association. The GRA was founded in 1990. Since the beginning, the GRA has worked to provide convenient and cost-effective tools to help the restaurant industry reduce its harmful impact on the environment. The GRA founded the green restaurant movement and is one of the pioneering founders of the green business movement as well.

A Toast to a Greener Plate

When we plan events,  the Boston Green Drinks Steering Committee hopes the resulting conversations represent various definitions of sustainability.   So far, we’ve seen you chatting about everything from energy to natural resources.  Although all sustainability topics play an important role in making our lives more productive and responsible, no topic is more universal to everyone’s experience than food.  Because we all eat, we all need to pay extra attention to the sustainability of our food system and how it affects our lives.

The team at the Center for Science in the Public Interest would like to make it easier for people across the U.S. to understand how the content of their plates can affect their health and their environment.  To that end, they are launching the first annual Food Day on October 24th, 2011.  Their goal is to turn Food Day in to the sustainable food system equivalent of Earth Day by encouraging discussion about how our food gets to our tables and how it affects our health.

Food Day has 6 principles:

Food Day
I challenge all Green Drinks attendees, blog readers, and friends to observe Food Day in any way you can.  You can visit the Food Day website to find any number of fun and informative events across the country.  For the slightly more adventurous, reach out to existing event organizers and offer to help them plan.  Volunteer to spread the word, set up event rooms, or build websites.  If you have a food related business or service, sponsor or partner with one of the events.  However you choose to participate, you owe it to yourself, the people who bring food to your table, and the natural resources from which your food grows to learn how to make more sustainable choices about what you eat.

If you want to stay current on Food Day happenings around Boston, you can also “Like” Food Day Massachusetts on Facebook.

It’s time for America to Eat Real and Boston’s sustainability community can lead the way (that means you)!

Lyn Huckabee is a Boston Green Drinks Steering Committee member and co-founder of the Boston Food Swap.  She holds a seat on the Cambridge Climate Protection Action Committee and the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Service advisory board.  She is a long-time member of the Junior League of Boston.  By day, she is a public servant advancing state energy policy.