Environmentally Friendly Restaurants in San Diego - Part II

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With the ill-defined nature of the term “Going Green,” several non-profit organizations have established environmental criteria for businesses to meet before they may be granted the “green” seal of approval.  While certification isn’t necessary for a restaurant to deem itself environmentally friendly, it can be a helpful way for consumers to know whether a restaurant is taking steps to ensure its operations are environmentally friendly. Part two of this article examines different certifying organizations and their criteria for declaring restaurants on their way to becoming “green.”

Green Certification

There are several certifying companies that have established strict criteria for determining whether a restaurant is environmentally friendly and sustainably minded. The Green Restaurant Organization works to empower restaurants to take steps to become more ecologically sustainable by offering environmental guidelines, as well as support and marketing. Restaurants can apply for Green Restaurant Certification after they are able to prove they meet certain basic environmental criteria: eliminating Styrofoam products and recycling all products accepted by local waste collection companies. Beyond these basic actions, restaurants are presented with a list of dozens of actions they can choose to take to become more environmentally friendly, and they must commit to completing four actions per year. Actions, or “Environmental Steps,” span across 11 categories: energy efficiency & conservation; water efficiency & conservation; recycling & composting; sustainable food; pollution prevention; recycled, tree-free, biodegradable & organic products; chlorine-free paper products; non-toxic cleaning & chemical products; green power; green building & construction; and education.

Restaurants in San Diego that have Green Restaurant Organization Certification include the La Jolla and Kensington locations of Burger Lounge (both 12 steps completed), Caffe Bella Italia in Pacific Beach (14 steps completed); Croces in Downtown (18 steps completed); E-Street Café in Encinitas (19 steps completed) Ranchos Cocina in Ocean Beach (20 steps completed); Ranchos North Park (21 steps completed), and Georges California Modern (37 steps completed). The Cohn Restaurant Group has recently signed on with the program and is currently working on certifying their 11 San Diego area restaurants. Solare Ristorante, sister restaurant to Caffe Bella Italia, is also working toward certification.

The San Diego Area Green Business Program was established in 2002 to give businesses a set of measurable standards for “going green.”  To be a part of the program, businesses must meet existing environmental regulations as well as take steps toward conserving energy, conserving water, preventing pollution, and reducing solid waste.  There are currently two restaurants participating in the program: E-Street Café in Encinitas and Good Onya Deli, a locally owned chain of casual delis that serve organic and fair trade sandwiches, salads, and wraps. Their commitment to going green includes banning plastic bags from their cafes, using vinegar and water as the main cleaning agents, reusing packing materials, buying ingredients from companies who are certified organic or who are following organic practices. E-Street Café, a casual coffee shop serving standard café fare, is the only area restaurant at the time of the writing of this article to be certified by the San Diego Area Green Business Program and the Green Restaurant Organization.

Another certification used to determine sustainability is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Certification, which assesses the architecture and building plans of new construction and renovated spaces. Through the Green Building Rating System developed through the United States Green Building Council, the design, construction, and operation of buildings is measured according to five key areas: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor environmental quality.

At the time of the writing of this article, no restaurants in San Diego occupy a LEED-certified building; however one restaurant has been built according to LEED criteria and is in the process of applying for LEED certification: Pizza Fusion at 3827 Fifth Avenue in Hillcrest. The restaurant was constructed with:

“countertops made from 100% recycled detergent bottles, bamboo flooring, 30% recaptured industrial concrete, ceiling panels made from 74% recycled aluminum cans and 24% post industrial metals, USG Gypsum Board made from pre-used drywall, insulation made from recycled blue jeans, ceiling baffles made from recycled composite board, low voltage and low heat lighting, seat cushions made with soybean oil, [and] furniture made from reclaimed wood.”

Pizza Fusion takes other measurable initiatives to ensure environmentally friendly and sustainable operations. The casual restaurant’s pizza delivery operations are performed in hybrid vehicles, easing the company’s petroleum dependence. They also commit, according to a press release, to “offsetting 100% of their power consumption with the purchase of renewable energy certificates.”

Many other restaurants have a commitment to sustainable practices, albeit without official certification. Stone World Bistro and Gardens, the restaurant on the premises of Stone Brewing Company’s Escondido brewery, is another area restaurant with an open policy on sourcing sustainable meat and produce. They also strive for energy efficiency: the company recently installed a $3.2 million solar panel system on the roof of their combined brewery and restaurant, which provides for over half the company’s electricity needs. The building was also constructed with several salvaged and repurposed materials, including doors and bricks from downtown buildings bulldozed prior to Petco Park construction. The company also fuels their delivery trucks with biodiesel.

Certification or not, the best way to determine the lengths that a restaurant has decided to commit to environmental sustainability is to engage in dialogue. Don’t just take a restaurant’s green practices for granted; ask them what they are doing, and if they aren’t taking action in an area that you feel is important, let them know. After all, many restaurants have taken some sort of “green” action already. They care. By opening up a dialogue, you can both show them that their customers appreciate their efforts and encourage them to do even more.

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