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At these restaurants, 'eating green' doesn't necessarily mean ordering a salad

With the average eatery producing 275 pounds of waste a day, some are adopting environmentally friendly approaches.

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But in many areas, technology has finally caught up with demand. Now it's just an issue of price and availability.

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For example, this fall Boloco announced it would shift toward "humanely raised" beef and pork. By choosing animals that are allowed to freely roam and are not exposed to added hormones or antibiotics, the chain hopes to alleviate the moral and health concerns of its customers.

Boloco has also attempted to partner with nearby farms, hoping to reduce the carbon footprint of delivery trucks. But finding farmers that carry the right animals, cut, certification, price, and location, all at once, has proved difficult. As a result, some of Boloco's "humane" pork is shipped from Canada.

"We have 13 stores, so no one farm can handle that much of one cut," Mr. Harder explains.

Similarly, he hoped his stores could offer "humane" chicken, but his original supplier couldn't handle the size of the order. "We're looking for a second source right now," he says.

Such tricky logistics and other moves to build an environmentally friendly restaurant often come with higher prices.

Last Friday, Texas restaurateur Jason Birmbaum opened his second Doc Green's franchise in Austin. With this new location, Mr. Birmbaum decided to try the GRA route right from the beginning.

He built the new salad and grill restaurant with low energy lights, potato-starch packaging, a tankless hot water heater, and wood harvested entirely from Texas.

Building the Austin branch likely cost $100,000 more than his first Doc Green's, Birmbaum estimates. But he's not worried. A big portion of the added price is from energy-efficient lights and devices, which he says are expensive to buy but save money in the long run.

The lighting "will pay for itself in a year or two," he says. "I will make up the rest of it by attracting more customers [with the restaurant's green message]."

The Doc Green's company is very interested to see if his investment pays off, Birmbaum says. And if it does, he'll retrofit his other location to meet the same GRA standards.

These trade-offs – spending extra money in some areas but saving in others – are Mr. Oshman's favorite sales pitch.

"Now, enough restaurants have taken those first steps and become early adopters that we can say, 'Look, this restaurant here has saved $5,000 a year,' " he says. "This is an industry that has a 5 percent profit margin. So, it would take $100,000 in sales to earn that $5,000. That's a big issue for any business, whether they care about the environment or not."

The message is catching on. After starting the GRA in 1990, it took Oshman 14 years to partner with and certify just 90 restaurants. This summer, he had 300. "Now, we're at 350 restaurants and we have literally hundreds on our waiting list," he says. Boloco hopes to be certified by the end of the month.

Behind restaurateurs' motives – both to save the environment and save some old-fashioned green – there's the distant ticking of proposed legislation. In February, Australian officials announced plans to phase out all incandescent light bulbs. In March, San Francisco approved legislation to ban plastic shopping bags. New York and several other American cities are currently debating a prohibition on Styrofoam.

"When these bans pass, our [certified] restaurants won't have to do anything," says Oshman. "They've already done it. And because they were first, they were the heroes, they got the attention, and their customers and employees were happier. Everyone else will just be forced to keep up."