If you’re committed to a green lifestyle, your own kitchen reflects your beliefs. Your pantry is stocked with whole foods; you’ve selected energy efficient appliances; you use green cleaning products; and you recycle absolutely everything. When you dine out, you want your restaurant experience to be as green as your own kitchen.
Despite “greenwashing” by even the biggest and least environmentally committed fast food chains, it’s difficult to evaluate just how green a restaurant is behind the scenes. While the most obvious green issues for restaurants involve the food offerings, many other elements affect the sustainability of a commercial kitchen, including energy efficiency, water efficiency, decor, takeout containers, cleaning practices, insect and rodent control, food preparation procedures and waste-handling. If you have time to investigate green restaurant issues in depth, you should visit the Food Service Warehouse website, and check out literally hundreds of pages about different aspects of greening commercial kitchens, but you can use the checklist below if you just want a convenient way to evaluate the place where you intend to have lunch or dinner.
Because most green restaurants provide information about their food sourcing and other green initiatives prominently on their menus and websites, you can evaluate restaurants online or by browsing window displays, in order to make informed choices before you make reservations. In the world of green dining, no news usually means bad news.
Your starting point for a green dining experience is a menu. The greenest choices are vegan, ones that contain no animal products at all, followed by vegetarian, and last, eco-friendly meats. Locally sourced seasonal products are greener than ones transported over long distances. Look for fair trade and organic certifications as well. Don’t forget the menu itself — it should be printed on unbleached post-consumer recycled paper, or even better, on reusable black or whiteboards or electronic displays.
Bringing it Home
For delivery or takeaway, consider containers and modes of transportation. Containers should be recyclable and made of recycled materials. Bringing your own reusable containers is ideal. Electric vehicles, scooters and bicycles are greener than gasoline-powered delivery vehicles. Firms that follow the Indian tradition of delivering hot lunches by bicycle in reusable metal containers called tiffins they collect the next day are extremely eco-friendly.
Decor and Building
Many features of a restaurant’s seating area can be designed to reduce environmental impact. Chairs and tables can be made of recycled or sustainable material. Lighting can be natural (best), incandescent (worst) or CFL. Freezing air-conditioning in summer suggests less environmental awareness than a slightly warmer room with ceiling fans.
Many organizations certify aspects of the restaurant business. First, look for membership in Green Restaurant Association. See if a restaurant is situated in a LEED certified building, conforming to national standards for green building practices. Energy Star certified devices are more efficient than older types of equipment. Paper products, including those in washrooms, should be certified as containing post-consumer waste or “Totally Chlorine Free” by the Chlorine Free Products Association. Look for Fair Trade, organic, cruelty free and similar certifications as appropriate.
Behind Closed Doors: Green Commercial Kitchen Certification
Much of a restaurant’s environmental impact happens behind closed doors or after hours, including food preparation methods, energy use, water use, cleaning products, and pest control. Although some restaurants post information about these things on their websites, it isn’t easy for the average diner to investigate the ductwork, fryer and broiler efficiency, refrigeration, steamers and sprayers in the kitchen before eating. Luckily, membership in the FSW Certified Green Commercial Kitchen program shows that a restaurant engages in green practices in every aspect of its operation.
Felicia Baratz is a freelance writer and graphic designer living in Indianapolis, IN. As a contributor to Eat Breathe Blog, she touches on topics of overall health, wellness and green innovations. When she isn’t writing, Felicia loves to read green education articles from Food Service Warehouse (FSW) and treehugger.com.