Across the nation, chefs boast of their farm-to-table ethos — even while they're dumping recyclable empties in the dumpster and buying their veggies right off a Sysco truck. In the status-obsessed food industry, "greenwashing" that sounds good without actually doing much is far more common than it ought to be.
But a program established locally in 2011 by the nonprofit organization St. Louis Earth Day aims to change that. For eateries that are genuinely committed to sustainability, the Green Dining Alliance (4125 Humphrey Street, 314-669-4432) provides a certification process to quantify (and continue to improve) their performance. Its mission recognizes that everything is connected and that eco-conscious restaurants have the opportunity to make a significant impact on our community, customer health and employee satisfaction.
The alliance's rating system covers everything from waste management and food sourcing to energy and water usage, purchasing and education. Additional points are awarded for innovative solutions. All members are required to meet a few core concepts: ban indoor smoking, No. 6 plastics and Styrofoam; utilize single-stream recycling; phase in efficient lighting; set waste reduction and diversion goals; and share waste and utility data with the alliance. Points are awarded for each item achieved, with restaurants ultimately earning one of four levels of certification from two to five stars.
To date, more than 100 restaurants have been certified, and the alliance has also certified the first two green dining districts in the nation. In both Maplewood and the Loop, 25 percent or more of the locally owned restaurants in the community have reached the alliance's standards.
Collectively, the work is having a big impact: Program directors estimate they've diverted 188 tons of material away from local landfills.