Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Green restaurants: More than a gimmick

While reading Morning Brew this morning, I came across a commentary from John Martin (published by The Province). Up until now, I had never heard of Martin, truth be told. But the commentary (provocative and somewhat shocking) made me think that people aren't really aware of what green restaurants (or sustainable restaurants) are, and that in a very similar fashion to carbon offsets, the public is criticizing the idea before really understanding it.

So I went back to the Green Table website to see if they had put up something newer that could help educate the readers (and perhaps Martin himself if he comes across my blog) about the concept of greening a restaurant. They now have an educational video that might be of some use. You can see it here (I copied the original link from Green Table's site).

It is clear to me that being oblivious to the reality that global environmental change is happening is just a demonstration of what I've called the "ostrich technique" (otherwise known as putting your head in the sand). Admittedly, I am one of the advocates of not putting all our eggs in the climate change basket. I want the public to know that there are many pressing environmental problems other than just climate change (e.g. wastewater, hazardous waste, e-waste).

The way Martin frames his article is very much that of the opinion of someone with limited exposure to the idea of sustainability in the food industry, and that's ok too. There is one basic fallacy though, that should be rebutted. Being a sustainable restaurant does NOT mean being a lousy restaurant. That's something people should be very well aware of. The idea of greening a restaurant which is already high quality is important, and I would hope that good restaurants will want to transition to becoming greener restaurants.

Take the list of Green Table members, and tell me which one you think is NOT a good restaurant. Hard to do, right? So, it's not that hard to be greener AND high quality. There will be some trade-offs, for sure. And there are products for which solutions are harder to find (I dare you to pack a steaming curry with basmati rice in a non-styrofoam container).

I can understand the frustration of Martin if the restaurant's efforts aren't legitimate or true. He clearly says in his article that he doesn't want 'pseudo-green gimmicks' confused with real efforts to be energy efficient or water efficient. That's why you have third-party certification and audits. That's why you enter in an eco-labelling scheme. That's why you make sure that restaurants comply with industry codes of conduct. That is precisely the reason why we have an organization like Green Table: to avoid restaurants with poor environmental performance to use green marketing to position themselves without actually making real efforts to improve the environment.

Just my $ 0.02 ...

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