Choose certified green restaurants
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.
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.)
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.
Courtesy of the Bay Area Green Business Program, this site lists green certified restaurants in the Bay area. You can search by city, cuisine type, or view a list of all restaurants. Areas considered in certification include energy and water conservation, recycling, and pollution prevention.
The GRA's Certified Green Restaurant Guide features more than 300 restaurants—including sit-downs and cafés, coffeehouses, resorts, bakeries, pubs, and even cafeterias in schools and museums—across the US and Canada that have been certified green. You can either peruse a list of all certified restaurants, or search by city, state, and/or zip code, and by type of restaurant.
Quality Assurance International certifies food vendors—including restaurants—as purveyors of high quality organic food. You can search their database by city, state, country, type of operation, and which guidelines they comply with. Your search will return results for bakeries and coffeehouses, as well as sit down restaurants, if you search any type of operation, rather than specifically searching only for restaurants.
This Bay Area-based organization lists ethnic restaurants that they have certified green in the cities of Berkeley, Oakland, Fremont, San Jose, and San Francisco. To be certified by Thimmakka, restaurants must follow the environmental guidelines laid out by the Alameda County Green Business Program.
This site contains a list of restaurants in Virginia that have committed to recycling of glass products and grease, eliminating Styrofoam and reducing disposables, and implementing water-efficiency measures, and conserving energy. The list is compiled and reviewed by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
- B.R. Guest Restaurants - B.R. Guest Garners Green Certification By Green Restaurant Association: Leads Industry By Becoming First Multi-Concept Green Restaurant Group
- Energy Services - Bulletin: Green building movement gains momentum
- Environmental News Network - San Diego’s first LEED certified restaurant
- Fast Zone - Boston’s Grille Zone gains GRA certification
- National Public Radio - Restaurants Set Sights on Going Green An NPR radio broadcast about green restaurant certification with profiles of several restaurants making the switch.
- New York Magazine - An Interactive Tour of the Country’s Greenest Food Business
- New York Magazine - Grub Street: What's the City’s Greenest Restaurant™? This article rates New York City restaurants on how green they are, and offers info about what makes them that way.
- Ode Magazine - Not the same old drive-thru
- Straight.com - Local restaurants head for greener pastures
- Tahoe Mountain Resorts - Press Release: Wild Goose First Restaurant in U.S. to Earn Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Commercial Interiors Green Des
- The Slow Food USA Blog - How Green is My Restaurant?
- WBUR - Dining Green Take a look inside a green restaurant with this interactive tour posted by Boston's National Public Radio station.
- Zagat Buzz - Five Paths to a Greener Restaurant
- BNET - Eco-friendly restaurants take steps to earn seals of approval from third-party certifiers
- Washington Post - A Tall Order of Green
- Environmental News Network - The Greening of Restaurants
- Green Restaurant Association - Environmental Guidelines
- Green Restaurant Association - About Us
- KnowNews.com - La Costa’s green ways: Market Square restaurant lauded as eco-friendly
- Quality Assurance International - Restaurant Program
- US Green Building Council - LEED for Retail
- Display and Design Ideas Magazine - McDonald's Opens First-Ever LEED-Certified Restaurant
- Thimmakka Certified Green Restaurants - Our Work: What do we do?
- Green Table - Foodservice: The FAQs
- The Bay Area Green Business Program - About Green Restaurant program