Restaurateurs are finding high- and low-tech ways to save the earth and reduce costs
A growing number of diners are looking for more than just delicious food and a pleasant atmosphere when they eat out. They want sustainability as well. Forward-thinking restaurateurs across the country are responding with initiatives that reduce their environmental footprint while bolstering the bottom line.
“If you look at food, transportation and energy, there are multi-billion-dollar indicators” that consumers want greener alternatives, according to Michael Oshman, CEO/founder of the nonprofit Green Restaurant Association. “It’s not just these surveys where consumers are saying they want this, they’re talking with their pocketbooks.”
Rifrullo Café, Brookline, Mass
A million little pieces
At GRA-certified Rifrullo Café in Brookline, Mass., owner Colleen Suhanosky works to reduce waste and boost efficiency throughout her business—strengthening bonds with her customers in the process.
“The bits and pieces we’ve done add up to a big change,” she says, citing a focus on reducing packaging, eliminating single-use plastics, producing less food waste and composting.
“I had our energy company install LED lights in the building, and we put filters on our faucets to slow down the flow, so we’re using less water,” says Suhanosky, who also opts for green energy from the local utility. “People appreciate that—it makes them feel like they are supporting something that is good for everybody.”
Uncommon Ground, Chicago
Here comes the sun
Not even the sky’s the limit when it comes to reducing environmental impact at Uncommon Ground, an American comfort-food restaurant with two Chicago locations. There, in addition to countless other initiatives, owner Helen Cameron and her husband, Michael, harness the power of the sun.
“We have solar thermal panels on both restaurants, which heat our water,” Helen Cameron explains. “It’s the most cost-effective alternative energy resource that restaurants can use.”
The Edgewater location also boasts the first certified organic rooftop farm in the country, providing the ultimate in locally sourced produce.
“It has made a real connection with guests as a demonstration of urban agriculture and sustainable food systems,” she explains. “It’s beautiful, but you can also see that you can successfully grow food in so many different ways.”
Throwing in the towels
According to Helen Cameron, one of the clearest examples of the monetary savings of going green can be found in the restrooms.
“I decided to get some Excel hand dryers, so I bought three for each location, which cost $3,000 in total,” she says. “It turned out that I was saving around $1,200 a month in each location on paper towels along with the carbon footprint, and that huge cash savings allowed me to do numerous other things.”
Sustainability = survival
With a history dating to 1991, Uncommon Ground has outlasted dozens of its competitors, a rare feat Cameron attributes to the restaurant’s commitment to green practices.
“Restaurants have a low profit margin and it’s getting harder to make ends meet. Costs go up, labor goes up, and we’re always trying to figure it out,” Cameron explains. “In terms of the sustainability factors we have implemented over the years, that’s definitely why we are still in business.”