Americans love restaurants. This year it's estimated they will spend $558 billion dining out. But restaurants also eat resources. They account for 33% of all US retail electricity use, and the average restaurant goes through 300,000 gallons of water a year.
Increasingly, owners are trying to reduce this environmental impact, implementing rigorous recycling and composting programmes, installing energy- and water-saving devices, relying on local ingredients, and more. The Green Restaurant Association (GRA), started in 1990 with the goal of forging an ecologically sustainable restaurant industry, offers an ongoing certification programme to help restaurateurs go green.
"In the beginning, people said 'What is this?'" says executive director Michael Oshman. "But it's now gone from 'Should we do this?' to 'How should we do it?'" The establishments adopting these measures are increasingly mainstream. "You've got Batali, Tavern on the Green. You've got Microsoft. These are not hippie, crunchy-granola restaurants."
Boston is the GRA's second-most active city in terms of certification, after New York. Restaurants from the upscale bistro Lumiere to the wrap-and-smoothie chain Boloco have the association's seal of approval. Many others are taking action.
In part, they're doing so because it makes business sense. That's why Jose Duarte, chef-owner of Taranta in the North End, took his first green steps. The cost of diesel was going up, and he realised he could save money by converting his truck to run on cooking grease recycled from the kitchen. "I was thinking about saving money, No 1, and then helping the environment. What could I do as a restaurant owner to maximise profit and minimise cost by going green?"
A lot, it turned out. Composting and recycling, for example, costs him 30% less than traditional trash service. It also saves large amounts of energy. By composting 63.7 tonne per year, Duarte figures, he saves 10.19 metric tonne of carbon equivalent, or 422 trips from Boston to New York in a Prius. By replacing one conventional light bulb with a compact fluorescent one, he says, he can save $35-45 a year. "Do you know how many light bulbs a restaurant has?"