No matter where you turn in America these days, there’s no escaping the idea of sustainability. Whether you agree with it or not, it has become one of the hottest marketing ploys being used to get the attention of the coveted 18-34 demographic. The most sustainable restaurants in America are banking on their philosophy to attract new business while simultaneously helping save the planet.
Ranking sustainable restaurants, also known as “green” restaurants, is a matter of individual preference. Depending on who’s doing the ranking, restaurants can be judged regarding everything from their choice of energy suppliers to ingredients. We’ve compiled a list of our favorites here, according to standards set by the Green Restaurant Association (GRA).
1. The Grey Plume – Omaha, Nebraska
In the heart of Omaha is a green restaurant on steroids known as the Grey Plume. It opened in December of 2010 and, according to InHabitat, instantly became America’s most sustainable restaurant. The GRA said as much when they awarded the restaurant the first-ever SustainaBuild™ Certified Green Restaurant® certification. Since then, but Grey Plume has been a model for others to follow.
The Grey Plume actively practices sustainability in a number of ways. First off, an LEED-certified project in the heart of Omaha was chosen as the location for their space. Next, they designed the restaurant to be extremely energy efficient while taking advantage of composting, recycling, green cleaning supplies, and reclaimed building materials.
As for the menu, the Grey Plume adopted a farm-to-table model. They are committed to using only produce and livestock grown and raised locally; a philosophy that’s reflected in a menu that changes along with the seasons. The changing menu has the added benefit of giving customers a gastronomic motivation for returning.
2. The Green Sage – Asheville, North Carolina
Sustainable restaurants in the American Southeast are led by Asheville-based Green Sage Coffeehouse & Café, a two-location restaurant with a tag line that reads “Eat Healthy, Live Healthy.” The restaurant’s website states one of the company goals as being an effort to make the world a better place.
Their green philosophy began with the design of the energy system, based on solar thermal technology. Solar thermal uses energy from the sun to heat a thermal liquid that can be used for any number of purposes including space heat and electrical generation. The restaurant uses 12 roof-mounted solar panels and six storage tanks to meet its energy needs.
In the kitchen, the Green Sage has set up a recycling and compost program designed to make sure absolutely nothing organic goes to waste. For example, their used fryer oil is acquired by a local dealer who converts it to biofuel. Even their food service containers are compostable, including potato-based drinking straws and eating utensils.
3. Founding Farmers – Potomac, Maryland
If you’re looking for sustainable restaurants in the Washington, D.C. area, look no further than Founding Farmers. The restaurant, with locations in Potomac and Washington, is a sustainable tribute to America’s earliest pioneers who faithfully farmed the land that is now the greater Washington area. Founding Farmers was established on the philosophy of protecting the land and environment while providing a great “down home” meal.
As a GRA Certified Green Restaurant™, Founding Farmers practices front- and back-end recycling, utilizes recycled materials whenever possible, and purports to maintain high energy efficiency. One of the examples most obvious to patrons comes by way of menus utilizing recycled paper and inks made of soy. The restaurant even goes so far as to remain carbon neutral by purchasing carbon credits.
4. Boston University’s GSU Food Court – Boston, Massachusetts
According to Boston University student newspaper BU Today, the school’s George Sherman Union food court was certified by the GRA as the most eco-friendly place to eat in the entire state of Massachusetts. The food court has been designated by the organization as a Certified Green Restaurant™.
The paper says GSU received a score of 210 and three stars when rated by the GRA. Their score was better than both Harvard and Northeastern, which scored 189 and 196 respectively. That might not mean much to you and me, but it means a lot to Boston University and GSU. The competition among the three schools is fierce in nearly every area.
When GSU was originally built some 50 years ago, it was far from a model of sustainability. But the University made a concerted effort at being eco-friendly when they remodeled the food court in 2010. According to school officials, their goal is to be both eco-friendly and teach students the benefits of doing the same individually.
There are undoubtedly other sustainable restaurants in cities and towns all across America. The one thing we can take away is this: It is entirely possible to create a great restaurant that serves great food, all while being environmentally responsible to the fullest extent. Going green in the restaurant business doesn’t mean opening a lame restaurant nobody wants to visit.