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There are no legal guidelines defining what it means to be a green restaurant, but several organizations have developed rigorous guidelines to determine if a self-proclaimed environmentally friendly restaurant is really serving Mother Earth her just desserts.[1]

Some certifying agencies look only for organic foods that are locally grown, while others examine brick and mortar in search of green buildings. Still others take a more comprehensive look, certifying restaurants only if they are green all over—buying green power, relying on energy efficiency and water conservation, using recycled and biodegradable paper products, and reducing and recycling waste. (A study by the Green Restaurant Association (GRA) found that the average restaurant meal produces a pound and a half of trash, half of which is compostable food waste.)[2]

Whatever shade of green dining you desire, choosing certified green restaurants makes it easy for you to have an environmentally friendly dining experience—you can choose a restaurant confident in the fact that all of its eco-claims have checked out.

Find it! Green-certified restaurants

The following organization listings include links to databases that allow you to search for certified green restaurants in your area.

Choosing a green-certified restaurant helps you go green because…

  • The restaurant has been checked out by a third-party agency, so you can be sure that the establishment’s eco-friendly claims are the real thing.

Green Restaurant Association

Since its establishment in 1990, GRA has granted green certification to more than 300 restaurants (from fast food to fine dining) in over 30 US states, Canada, and Europe. GRA’s goal is simple but expansive: help restaurants become environmentally sustainable across all sectors of the industry, from the manufacturers and distributors a restaurant buys from to the electricity it purchases from the utilities to the food it serves to customers.[3]

GRA requires restaurants to meet 11 environmental guidelines: energy efficiency and conservation; water efficiency and conservation; recycling and composting; sustainable food; pollution prevention; recycled, tree-free, biodegradable and organic products; chlorine-free paper products; nontoxic cleaning and chemical products; green power; green building and construction; and education.[4]

To become certified, a restaurant must first be evaluated by GRA. Consultants then work with the restaurant to develop an action plan to become more environmentally friendly, and provide assistance in the greening process by finding distributors of eco-products, setting up recycling and composting programs, and educating employees on how to run a sustainable restaurant, among other services.[5] Restaurants must re-qualify each year and verify that they have adopted four steps from GRA’s recommendations in that time to keep their certification.[6]

Quality Assurance International

Quality Assurance International (QAI) is one of 55 companies empowered by the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Organic Program (NOP) to certify vendors claiming to sell or specialize in organic foods. QAI’s Restaurant Program provides on-site inspection in restaurants worldwide to verify that the food they serve meets the strict standards of the NOP, and verifies that the areas where that food is prepped is being properly managed. Certification is given only to restaurants upholding the highest standards for organic foods.[7]

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), developed by the US Green Building Council (USGBC), is a points-based rating system for green buildings using a four-tier standard (Certified, Silver, Gold, Platinum). The term "green building" is generally used to define buildings that demonstrate superior environmental performance compared to typical buildings in a given region and asset class.

USGBC has begun a pilot program, “LEED for Retail” that will work to certify restaurants and other retail spaces as green. LEED for Retail covers restaurants in the following categories: New Construction, Major Renovations, and Commercial Interiors, and takes into consideration lighting, sites, security, and energy and water concerns.[8] Even McDonald's has opened a LEED-certified restaurant in Savannah, Georgia, boasting large windows to replace electric light, preferred parking for hybrid vehicles, and a white roof, among other eco-friendly features.[9]

Regional certification organizations

Thimmakka Certified Green Restaurants (TCGR) is a project of Thimmakka’s Resources for Environmental Education in the San Francisco Bay Area. TCGR works with ethnic restaurants (including Indian, Pakistani, Persian, Burmese, Afghani, Thai, Vietnamese, Ethiopian, Mediterranean, African-American and Chinese restaurants and bakeries) to help them align their practices with the Alameda County Green Business Program guidelines. These guidelines include more than 57 environmental measures in four areas: water and energy conservation, solid waste minimization, and pollution prevention.[10]

Green Table is a Vancouver, British Columbia-based project to help food service operations lessen their environmental impact and increase the amount of local food and green products that they carry. While not yet an official certification program, Green Table welcomes members who adopt the following behaviors: compost their organic waste; recycle paper, plastic, glass, and metal; use energy-efficient equipment and lighting; use water-saving equipment and fixtures; use recycled, biodegradable and nontoxic supplies; buy local and organic foods, and sustainable seafood; and support like-minded local suppliers and service providers working to green their own operations.

The organization works much like the larger certification agencies discussed above: they start with an initial consultation and develop a green action plan catered to each member, then help network that member with service providers and suppliers who carry green products.[11]

The Bay Area Green Restaurant program offers certification to restaurants that bring their operations in line with the Bay Area Green Business Program’s environmental regulations. These regulations include, but are not limited to, energy and water conservation, recycling, food waste reduction, and pollution prevention. The restaurants undergo inspections from the Green Business Program and other regulatory agencies to remain certified.[12]

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