Restaurants are taking strides to change the industry’s impact on our environment

by Julie Harans for Wine Spectator

Restaurants are major contributors to the crisis of climate change. Full-service restaurants generate 7.3 million tons of food waste annually, according to a 2016 report by ReFED, a data company focused on reducing waste. And according to the Green Restaurant Association (GRA), a nonprofit that helps restaurants become more environmentally responsible, the U.S. restaurant industry consumes one-third of all electricity in the retail sector.

While that’s a disheartening fact for diners and restaurateurs to face, it also means the industry has the capacity to produce significant positive change. In recent years, as concepts like seasonal menus and “farm-to-table” dining have become ubiquitous, restaurateurs have also started to think more about their environmental impact. “I’ve been in the restaurant industry for 27 years, and when I started in the industry, you never saw anything like this,” said executive chef Andrew Smith of Riverpark in New York. “Everything just went in the garbage, and I’m not sure people even knew what organic was at that point.”

There are now 640 “Green Restaurants” certified by the Green Restaurant Association across the U.S. and Canada, with star ratings based on areas such as water efficiency, sustainable food and energy. Between those certified restaurants and those on the path toward certification, GRA’s number of locations has grown by 255 percent since the start of 2009.

From the carbon emissions and pesticides associated with food production to transporting that food to the restaurants, to everyday energy use, there are opportunities for improvement in almost every area of the industry.


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