Food and food waste account for more than 90 percent of the environmental impact of food service and restaurants. Additionally, Americans throw away 40 percent of all food produced, making food the No. 1 material sent to landfills. To address this growing concern, Green Seal—a nonprofit organization that was established in 1989 to identify and create sustainable practices—released a nationwide standard in March that provides specific guidelines for restaurants and food services to minimize waste and increase efficiency.

The new national standard, GS-55, quantifies “being green” through rigorous criteria that minimize environmental impact in several categories, and was developed following a pilot program conducted in partnership with the Green Chicago Restaurant Coalition at various Chicago restaurants in 2012. During the pilot study, one restaurant reached 96 percent diversion of its waste and another minimized waste to just a few gallons per year.

“It’s a fine line to develop standards that are both achievable and effective environmentally—we’re not going to spend our time developing standards that nobody can meet,” says Linda Chipperfield, Green Seal’s vice president of marketing and communications.

Green Seal develops standards through the life-cycle model, where the product’s environmental impact is charted from the raw materials to the landfill. “Using the [life-cycle] model for a service, like a restaurant, means you have to look at everything: waste, communication, and training,” Chipperfield says.

Restaurant waste can be downsized through composting, food donation, recycling of solid waste and grease, and limiting disposable packaging. Restaurants that strive for Green Seal certification typically save money on utilities, waste management, and cleaning supplies.

“Being certified is a big differentiator,” Chipperfield says, noting the nonprofit conducts onsite audits of restaurants for continued accountability, which reinforces the operation’s claim of sustainability.

Daniel Pedersen, vice president of science and standards at Green Seal, identifies the three biggest changes a restaurant can implement to lessen environmental impact. “First and foremost is sustainable sourcing of food,” Pedersen says. “Second is [managing] the waste. Keep organics separate from other trash to be composted. And finally, make sure everybody involved in the restaurant is educated and trained.”

Feature, Sustainability