The Green Restaurant Association

A 12-step program for restaurants

by Alice Martinez

n every city there are local gas, water, and electric companies, a Chamber of Commerce, a Health Department, A Restaurant Association, a big local newspaper, trash pick-up, and landfills.... But there is something unique that exists only in San Diego: The Green Restaurant Association (GRA).

GRA was created in 1993 to help the restaurant industry minimize its negative environmental impact. The Green Restaurant Association helps individual restaurants and chains go through a 12-step process to achieve specific goals [see sidebar]. GRA founder Michael Oshman educates the owners and employees about cost effective, consumer-pleasing alternatives to needless waste and the use of toxic virgin products.

A restaurant is a complex business, with many suppliers and service providers, each with their own environmental impact. Oshman started this program to pull together all these different aspects to form a healthier whole. For example, he will match a restaurant up with the recycler who will service them the best, or schedule a meeting between a manufacturer which is producing a good product and a local distributor. And, provide the vital service of matching up customers with restaurants that reflect their environmental values.

The savings for the restaurants are substantial. One restaurant saves about $2,000 a year just from reduced trash costs due to increased recycling. The environment wins big, too. For example, for every ton of the 100 percent post-consumer waste napkins, paper towels, toilet paper and take-out boxes used in place of of their virgin counterparts, 17 trees are left standing, 7,000 gallons of water are conserved, 4,100 kwh of energy are saved, 60 pounds of pollution is kept from fouling our air, and 3 cubic yards of landfill are saved.

In the GRA's 3 years, many new products have arrived in the market due to strong demand from environmentally responsible restaurant customers. In 1993, there were no commercially available take-out containers made from recycled material. Now, there are two companies producing take-out boxes made from post consumer recycled content, some of which are also chlorine bleach-free. Also available are forks, knives and spoons made from processed corn starch that functioning exactly the same as regular disposable plastic utensils. And, responsible servers can purchase napkins, paper towels and toilet paper from 100 percent post consumer recycled material, also completely chlorine bleach-free.

Procott for Change

Michael sees GRA on the leading edge of a new economic force. "Many environmentalists have been very committed to boycotting certain products and businesses," he states. "The next stage of the environmental movement is an evolution from the boycott stage to the 'propott stage,' leading the economic community rather than reacting to it.

"So far, thousands of people have chosen not to patronize certain products and businesses; sometimes those businesses have gotten the message and changed their practices.

"We have been in the stage of 'preferring to go to an environmentally responsible business.' This next stage is one of commitment, for when consumers make the commitment to only go to environmentally responsible businesses, the other businesses will follow."

Wanted: 100 Pillars

To power jump-start this movement, GRA is looking for 100 individuals - Green Pillars ­ that will put their money where there committment is by pledging, for one year, to only go to Green Restaurants that use no Styrofoam and are committed to the GRA's 12 steps. This group, equal to $200,000 a year in restaurant revenue, is enough to induce additional restaurants sit up and take notice.

"Change happens when one makes a commitment. The world is ready for real change. The world needs 100 Green Pillars," says Oshman. "Those who can honestly make the commitment should step forward."

Our environmental problems have spun out of control due to our unconscious consumer choices; now we have the choice to weave together a healthier world by making the right choices.

To find the Green Restaurants near you, call the Green Restaurant Referral Service at 490-9695 ext 2. To find out more about becoming become a Green Pillar, call the Green Restaurant Association office at 287-4261.