For the Food Industry Going Green Has Never Been This Easy

Going Green

Going GreenKermit the Frog knew it wasn’t easy being green, but establishment owners all over the United States know it is now possible and easier than ever. Whether you represent a restaurant of 150 or a gelato shop of five, there are many ways to do your part for the environment by going green at your location. It is convenient to think your restaurant or shop has an insignificant effect on the environment, but even small footprints matter and can amount to significant damage. While not all of the following information will apply to every location and some transformations are easier to accomplish than others, creating a plan to go green will be the most successful when employees are involved and the organization works as a team. For those with already established restaurants and shops, it is never too late to go green. For anyone looking to open up a shop in the future, all the resources you need are available and at your fingertips to go green from the start. But where to start? While there are thousands of initiatives and ideas available, here are four elements to inspire and initiate a green plan that is right for you: be aware, be realistic, be efficient and be creative.

Be Aware

It’s important to be aware of your environmental responsibility: aware that there is always something you can do, and aware that there are resources to help. The National Restaurant Association has recently launched an environmental initiative known as Conserve Interactive Restaurant. It defines environmental responsibility as “a way of approaching business decisions that helps businesses achieve their existing strategic goals more efficiently, quickly and cost-effectively.”

“Restaurants are the retail world’s largest energy user. They use almost five times more energy per square foot than any other type of commercial building.” -Pacific Gas & Electric’s Food Service Technology Center


With Conserve Interactive Restaurant, you can launch a “virtual green restaurant” that will show you conservation tips from the front to the back of the house.

In addition to the multitude of resources available to restaurant owners, Conserve also features success stories. For example, there is a story about a small coffee shop that does business in a building that is 120 years old, but that didn’t stop its owners from going green.1 Some of their changes included recycled furniture, ENERGY STAR®-certified appliances and a recycling program. Their bigger changes included a new and more efficient roof, and an effort to source local and organic ingredients. Like this coffee shop, other restaurants have made a point to educate customers on green efforts, even going as far as to include them. Conserve welcomes submissions and stories of restaurants that have gone green. Visit the Conserve Web site ( to share your ideas and successes for other restaurants to follow.

Be Realistic

Because there are so many ways to make a difference, each establishment can customize its own green plan devised from a balance of desire and assets. Be realistic about what you can invest and realistic of what you can expect from employees, customers and yourself. If you have available funds, a substantial investment will create substantial returns, as well as have a positive impact on the environment. For example, a “cool” roof reflects 80 percent of the sun’s rays, resulting in a more-efficient and less-expensive cooling system. Less electricity not only results in less cost to the owners, but also less energy and cooling materials used and waste put into the environment.1 The smart fortwo, commonly referred to as the smart car, is an ultra-low-emission vehicle made of recyclable materials.2 Distributed exclusively by smart USA, these cars can be the ultimate, efficient choice for delivery vehicles. While this 11 Food Industry, For the Has Never Been This Easy Green Going “Restaurants are the retail world’s largest energy user. They use almost five times more energy per square foot than any other type of commercial building.” -Pacific Gas & Electric’s Food Service Technology Center requires an initial investment, fuel savings are notable compared to other vehicles, and a smaller impact on the environment is priceless.

For those with a small shop or limited profits, going green does not have to be an investment. According to the Pacific Gas & Electric’s Food Service Technology Center (FSTC), “Restaurants are the retail world’s largest energy user. They use almost five times more energy per square foot than any other type of commercial building.”3 Keeping refrigerator and freezer doors closed – opening them only long enough to remove contents – will lower energy usage and costs

This can be especially important if you own a gelato, ice cream or frozen yogurt shop, because these products maintain their quality when kept at the proper temperatures.

One of the keys to a successful green plan is support from your employees. Be reasonable about what you can expect from your employees and what, if any, motivation will be needed. If you have a supportive and enthusiastic staff, present individual challenges. For example, start a “Tip Jar” where anyone who leaves the water running unnecessarily or leaves the lights on in a closet or room when they leave it has to donate $1 of his or her tips to the jar. After a few weeks or months (depending how energyconscious everyone is), use the money for an environmental product, such as new uniforms made from organic cotton. If you have a smaller shop or staff, encourage everyone to work as a team. Perhaps everyone can bring in their favorite cup or travel mug to use throughout the day and reduce the need to use disposable cups or plastic bottles. Don’t count out the fact that your customers might be interested in catching on with your green initiatives. For example, offering free refills to customers who bring their own coffee mug or water bottle can help get almost anyone on board. Being realistic about your green plan is more than just doing the minimum to go green. Take a look at your business, staff and clientele, and don’t understate what you can all do together.

Be Efficient

In the past few years, it has become more and more affordable to be efficient in energy usage, supplies and methods. For example, local supermarkets and variety stores carry energy-efficient bulbs, such as ENERGY STAR®-qualfied light bulbs, for approximately $2-$4.4 Another energy-saving technique applies to shops with display cases. The lights in the display case can be turned on when the shop opens, instead of when employees report to work, saving up to 1–2 hours of energy usage. The display case can also be shut down at night while the frozen desserts are stored in a holding freezer. This increases the shelf life of your desserts and saves the energy it takes the display case to run through defrost and frost cycles all night. Depending on how long you leave it on during the day, the case can be manually defrosted.

There are so many ideas available on how to be ecologically aware in your establishment. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) encourages everyone to remember the three Rs: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. One of the first steps a shop or restaurant can take is to reduce its waste by reusing supplies or by recycling. Depending on food safety regulations and the types of materials in your shop or restaurant, recycling may be more feasible than reusing materials.

To encourage staff participation charge them a dollar or a quarter every time they leave a light on.


You can recycle items as large as a refrigerator and as small as a plastic spoon. Recycling old appliances, such as refrigerators can help save electricity and costs. Some states have programs that offer cash for old appliances while other companies recycle your refrigerator for free when you buy a new, more-efficient one. Visit for refrigerator recycling programs in your state. You can also donate old equipment, receive a tax write-off, and prevent something from ending up in a landfill that can be reused or repurposed. If your equipment is in good working condition and you would like to sell it, there are many start-up businesses searching classifieds for used appliances. For smaller items, you can set up a recycling program. By looking online and finding recycling drop-off locations in your area, you can know exactly what type of materials to collect. A great resource to help you find recycling places in your area and to help start a recycling program is

Another way to reduce your paper usage is to go digital. If you already have a Web site for your restaurant or shop, keep it updated with upcoming events and to-go menus to reduce the number of flyers and menus that need to be printed. If you don’t have a Web site, you can easily set up one for free (both and are user-friendly) or for less than $10 with the domain of your choice ( Your staff and tabletop signage can direct customers to check frequently for events and updates on your Web site. Posting your menu in a window or in the front of your restaurant will also encourage take-out patrons to order from the posted menu, reducing the number of printed to-go menus that are thrown away.

Be Creative

Now that you’re aware, realistic about your green investment and coming up with ways to be efficient, you can be creative. With all the green discussions and ideas, going green can seem repetitive and uninspiring. Using a little creativity can help customers and employees join your green plan. Instead of calling a meeting to educate employees on the state of the environment and the impact of your restaurant, have a contest for your employees to come up with ways to go green. Establish a theme, such as “5 for $50” and have employees create a plan that has five ways to go green for $50. You can award a $50 gift card to the employee with the best ideas and you will make a difference in your shop. Visit the online Visa® Gift Card Lab ( for fun, green-themed gift cards.

Encourage customers to join in and help with your initiatives. For example, buy recyclable supplies (such as PreGel’s Formafina Cups for gelato) and offer incentives to customers who recycle them rather than just throw them away. Have a recycle bin set up in your shop and have customers who turn in their cups before leaving (or bring it back from a previous visit) receive a 10 percent discount on their next purchase. Run this campaign for a limited time and then post the results from a local recycling center on the amount recycled thanks to everyone’s efforts.

If you create a lot of paper in your business such as receipts, disposable menus and other documents, set up a recycling bin. You can take the paper to a local recycling center, or for a small monthly fee, Pro Shred will come to your business and pick up a full bin, exchanging it with an empty one. While the company’s paper shredding system focuses on ensuring privacy, it also provides each business with certificates based on how much is recycled. The TreeSaver Environmental Certificate shows the total number of trees your business saves and is a great way to reveal your efforts to customers.5

It is easier than ever to go green now that resources are starting to tailor green tips to specific industries. For example, the ENERGY STAR® Web site has specialized advice for small businesses. Need another incentive to go green? The Department of Energy created The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, which outlines tax incentives for businesses that demonstrate their environmental responsibility. Visit the U.S. Department of Energy Web site ( for more information on this Act.6 “There couldn’t be a tougher time for the $558 billion restaurant industry to put on a green face. Consumers are eating out less due to the soft economy, and those who do eat out are spending less.” says Bruce Horwitz from USA Today.7 But it’s the right time to go green, become environmentally responsible and make a difference for your restaurant, customers and the environment. Remember the passion and dedication you had to start your restaurant or open your shop? Channel that same energy, with a combination of awareness, realism, efficiency and creativity, to make a difference that will affect more than just you or your establishment, but will affect everyone. Remember Kermit the Frog – it wasn’t easy being green, but that’s exactly what he wanted to be.

1 ”Conserve,” National Restaurant Association,, 2008.
2, 2008.
3 Pacific Gas & Electric’s Food Service Technology Center (FSTC),, 2008.
4 wal-mart. com, 2008.
5, 2008.
6 U.S. Department of Energy,, 2008.
7 Horwitz, Bruce, “Can Restaurants Go Green, Earn Green? USA Today, May 2008.