Sustainable Restaurant Solutions on a Finite Planet

By Alex Ageno | Sustainable Living, Urban Design

As sustainability gains recognition throughout the world, numerous industries world are seeing the benefits of the concept. Through careful planning and thorough understanding of how to implement sustainability correctly, the resulting benefits can be great. The number of industries that can benefit from sustainable practices continue to grow, from grocery stores to amusement parks. Restaurants are another of the many industries that are beginning to understand sustainability’s many benefits.

Restaurants have the tendency to amass a very large carbon footprint, and it’s not just due to the food itself. The restaurants themselves tend to contribute to a larger carbon footprint, if not even more so. Restaurants use very high amounts of energy, finite resources, water, and more. Restaurants also contribute a large amount of waste. In response to a large carbon footprint, restaurants can now implement sustainable solutions in numerous facets. From lighting and building materials, to food sources and water, restaurants can help the planet towards a sustainable future.

Uncommon Ground, Chicago.  Image via

Sustainability Goals for Restaurants

How a restaurant utilizes the resources needed to run a restaurant can have substantial sustainable benefits. There are numerous facets that contribute to a large carbon footprint. Luckily, there are also numerous ways that this can be remedied. Many associations, websites, and governments offer opportunities to help restaurants meet sustainable goals as well:

1. Water Supply

In regards to water consumption, restaurants can often use equipment that help save water, while not decreasing restaurant efficiency. Aside from more sustainable equipment, restaurants can also change their practices. Running an efficient kitchen, with a conscious decision to save water, is key as well. Finally, bathrooms that avoid excess water usage can be utilized within a restaurant’s facilities.

2. Energy Consumption

Restaurants use high amounts of energy. Restaurants can help reduce energy in numerous ways, such as: purchasing restaurant equipment that aims to save energy, using more efficient lighting, utilizing an sustainable HVAC system, and utilizing water equipment that helps reduce heat-watering costs. Energy Star itself offers restaurants the opportunity to save energy. Energy Star’s Guide for Restaurants: Putting Energy into Profit offers plenty of information, for starters.

3. Waste Reduction

Waste reduction and recycling are essential.  Restaurants often accumulate very large amounts of waste, so being more conscious and taking action to reduce waste will provide sustainable benefits. To start out, restaurants can conduct a waste audit. Restaurants can analyze the results and figure out how to improve in weak areas. Restaurants that use recyclable materials also help contribute to a sustainable restaurant.

4. Building Materials

Restaurants can also use sustainable furniture. The Sustainable Furnishings Council helps anybody find companies that specialize in sustainable furniture.


La Rive Timber Theatre and Restaurant in France. Image via Inhabitat.

The Green Restaurant Association, in their certification checklist, offers the following sustainable standards, also noting of the high amounts of resources restaurants can use. The guidelines they establish are ideal to meet. They are as follows:

Sustainable Foods in Restaurants

In addition to the restaurants themselves, the food itself can be a fundamental of a sustainable restaurant. Local food is known for providing numerous benefits to the environment, aside from providing much healthier food in general. Local food helps reduce travel, thus reducing emission and the depletion of natural resources needed to fuel travel. Restaurants that focus on local food as a main ingredient already are a facet of the restaurant industry.

Sustainable Restaurant Organizations

As the concept of sustainable restaurants becomes more renown, there’s a growing need for organizations to help further the development of restaurants adapting sustainable methods and features. In response, numerous organizations have sprung up in order to help foster the sustainable restaurant. One major organization would be the Green Restaurant Association.
The Green Restaurant Association was founded in 1990. The association provides comprehensive help, partnership, certification, and other benefits. The association offers invaluable benefits for four constituents:  Restaurants and other Food Service Facilities, Manufacturers, Consumers, and Distributors.
  • Within the “Restaurants and other Food Service Facilities” category, the GRA offers four major services: “Environmental Asset”, “Environmental Consulting”, “Certification”, and “Green Public Relations and Marketing”.
  • The GRA endorses restaurant related products that provide outstanding sustainable benefits. The GRA also helps the manufactures create more sustainable products as well. In order for any of these products to receive an endorsement, they must meet standards that the GRA has set. The GRA endorses a wide variety of products in numerous categories, including resuables, water, disposables, and energy.
  • The GRA provides environmental consulting for distributors.  The GRA helps distributors “Carry the Greenest Products” and “Green your operations”.
  • The GRA provides certification to restaurants who meet numerous sustainable goals.  In order to gain enough points to get a certification, restaurants must meet standards in regards to energy efficiency, water efficiency, and many other categories.
Other resources include The Sustainable Restaurant Association, LEAF, Green Table Network, Conserve (by the National Restaurant Association), The EPA, and Food Service Technology Center.

About The Author

Alex Ageno earned his degree in Urban Planning in 2013 from Arizona State University. Alex's interests in Urban Planning include Urban Design, Sustainability, Form Based Codes, Zoning, and Environmental Planning. He resides in Arizona.