Restaurants Set Sights on Going Green

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Eco-friendly restaurants are sprouting up across the country, with owners committing to reduce energy and water use. The move to "go green" is a good marketing strategy — one that saves companies money.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

You're getting in your green car to go out for dinner. But where to? In Boston, try the earth-friendly eatery visited by reporter Meghna Chakrabarti.

(Soundbite of restaurant kitchen)

MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI: The kitchen is in full swing at Upstairs on the Square, a popular Cambridge, Massachusetts restaurant. Rachel Garrett ducks into the walk-in refrigerator.

Unidentified Woman #1: What are we looking for?

Ms. RACHEL GARRETT (Consultant, Green Restaurant Association): I'm just looking to see if there's any, like, thermostats or frost timers, or anything like that.

CHAKRABARTI: Garrett is a consultant with the Boston-based Green Restaurant Association or GRA. She's doing a top-to-bottom environmental assessment, and she examines everything: thermostats, spray valves, trash, lights, sinks, carpet, to-go boxes, window shades, furniture, everything - even the urinals.

Unidentified Man: The urinal is one gallon per flush, and the toilet's 1.6.

Ms. GARRETT: That's good.

Unidentified Woman #3: Yay, low-flow toilets.

CHAKRABARTI: Sure, low-flows are great, but they're not enough. Upstairs on the Square has contracted with the non-profit GRA to become a certified green restaurant, meaning they've committed to make four changes every year that reduce the restaurant's energy, resource or water use - a commitment co-owner Mary-Catherine Deibel takes seriously.

Ms. MARY-CATHERINE DEIBEL (Co-owner, Upstairs on the Square): The planet is in danger, and of course as a business owner, I have the power to make a difference.

CHAKRABARTI: There are almost one million restaurants in the United States, says Green Restaurant Association founder Michael Oshman. Restaurants are the largest consumers of energy in the retail sector. They produce billions of pounds of waste, but Oshman says some in the industry understand the need to change.

Mr. MICHAEL OSHMAN (Co-founder, Green Restaurant Association): There are restaurateurs that not only see that it makes business sense but also get the environmental peace. And for those particular restaurateurs, it's a win-win on the social, environmental and business side.

Ms. TAMI CLARK (Vice President of Marketing, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf): Wow, look what we could save.

CHAKRABARTI: That's Tami Clark, vice president of marketing for The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. The California-based chain is making green updates in 200 stores, and it's saving them money, $750,000 over five years, Clark says. Plus, she thinks the green certification will pull in more customers.

Ms. CLARK: People want to feel good about a purchase. As a customer, I want to think that it has some value overall, globally, so I see that as being probably the main driver of all this.

CHAKRABARTI: Of course, making people feel good about consuming encourages more consumption, and…

Mr. JAMES GOLDSTEIN (Tellus Institute): …in some ways, there are incompatibilities with a, quote-unquote, consumer society and sustainability.

CHAKRABARTI: Says James Goldstein of the Tellus Institute, an environmental research group. He supports green restaurants but believes a truly sustainable world needs more than low-flows and compact fluorescents. Goldstein says people just have to consume less.

Mr. GOLDSTEIN: There are real limits, and it's not only a technology issue, it's al lifestyle issue, and that's what is so often missing in the sustainability discussions.

CHAKRABARTI: Also missing was the restaurant industry. But Green Restaurant Association founder Michael Oshman believes that's changing, because now, his phone never stops ringing.

Mr. OSHMAN: People are calling up to build new restaurants, chains are calling up - places out of the country. It's hitting prime-time, and it's very exciting to see people responding and getting that this is an important issue.

CHAKRABARTI: About 1,000 restaurants in more than 20 states have gone through the GRA process, and many of them display the GRA symbol. It's a knife and fork inside a green circle. For NPR News, I'm Meghna Chakrabarti.

CHADWICK: Meghna's a reporter for WBUR, our member station in Boston, and they have produced a special interactive tour of green restaurants. It's at our Web site, npr.org.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: And more to come on DAY TO DAY after this.

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