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Today’s Specials: The green restaurant and green dining

You spent all day being green — sorting recyclables, painting with low-VOC paint, and preparing your rain barrel for the cold weather — and now you want to go out to dinner and relax. But don’t drive your Prius to just any restaurant — continue your green day by choosing an environmentally aware restaurant.

As you can imagine, restaurants produce tons of packaging waste, use enormous amounts of electricity and other utilities, and produce significant emissions. A green restaurant is one that pays attention to those things and attempts to limit them.

The Green Restaurant Association, a trade group that certifies green restaurants, lists seven issues that restaurants can address: water efficiency, waste reduction and recycling, sustainable furnishings and building materials, sustainable food, energy, disposables, and chemical and pollution reduction.

A restaurant seeking certification follows the GRA’s program and earns “points” for each step it takes. For example, in the water efficiency category, if a restaurant uses a prep sink with a flow of less than or equal to one gallon per minute, it earns 2.25 points. Using an Energy Star qualified steamer earns 4.25 points, and installing landscaping that requires little water over at least half of the site earns 3 points.

A restaurant can become a Two-Star Certified Green Restaurant by earning at least 100 points, having at least 10 points in each category, having a full-scale recycling program, not using polystyrene foam, and participating in yearly education. A Three-Star restaurant needs 175 points, and a Four-Star restaurant (the top rating) requires 300 points.

“Restaurants are America’s largest consumer of electricity in the retail sector,” says Michael Oshman, CEO and founder of the Green Restaurant Association.  “By choosing a Certified Green Restaurant®, you are enjoying your meal with a lower environmental impact. Because we eat three times per day, your choice of a Certified Green Restaurant® could be the largest environmental decision you make over the course of the week.”

You can find green restaurants by visiting the consumer section of the Green Restaurant Association’s website http://dinegreen.com/customers/default.asp.

Currently the highest scoring green certified restaurant is Uncommon Ground, a coffee shop and restaurant in Chicago with two locations. Among the restaurant’s green features are tables made from wood reclaimed from storm-damaged trees, a rooftop garden that provides much of the restaurant’s produce, and a commitment to local purchasing (to reduce emissions from shipping).

“We purchase everything as local as possible,” says Michael Cameron, owner of Uncommon Ground. “We have been ‘farm-to-table’ long before it was a popular buzzword in the business.”

So don’t let your green guard down when planning a night out — put your dining dollars to work in an environmentally aware restaurant.


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