Earth Month Spotlight: Restaurants

Last week we took a look at hotels that were making major sustainability efforts to reduce their environmental impact. This week we will visit another important hospitality industry that is making major improvements in how they do business. Restaurants are quickly learning the importance of sustainability, from using local and seasonal produce to prioritizing waste management and energy efficiency.

These changes can produce a significant positive impact, not only on the environment but also on a restaurant’s bottom line and employee morale. According to, 80 percent of Americans identify themselves as environmentally concerned. A dedicated sector of this group is driving a 20 percent annual growth in the $11 billion organic food industry—no small potatoes.

Printworks Bistro was the first restaurant in the United States to attain the LEED Platinum certification in 2008, incorporating energy-saving features such as variable speed hoods that set the power according to the kitchen’s needs and adjust to a lower level of operation (typically 25 percent of their full capacity). The hoods’ sensors also detect heat, smoke, or other effluents and increase the fan speed to keep the air fresh. The restaurant used salvaged, solid walnut trees that came down through sickness or storm to construct its bistro bar and uses room service trays (for the adjacent Proximity Hotel) made of bamboo plywood. To top it off, Printworks’ refrigeration equipment uses geothermal energy instead of a standard water-cooled system, saving significant amounts of water.

Chicago is home to the first certified organic rooftop farm in the U.S., established by 
uncommon ground in 2008. The 2,500-square-foot rooftop deck features organic plants that can be used in the company’s two restaurants, as well as companion plants and flowers for added beauty. The farm only uses organic seeds and seeds cultivated from its own stock and supports local farmers by purchasing additional organic plants at the local farmers market. Trellising and cold frames expand their growing season and harvest, and four beehives provide pollination in their community and homemade honey on their menu. Yum.

Kona Brewing Company, headquartered in Kailua-Kona on Hawaii’s Big Island, is leading the charge for sustainable breweries. Within the brewing process, heat exchangers are used to recapture the thermal energy produced by brewing. Solar tubes provide natural lighting in the brewery rather than using wasteful electricity. The brewery collects rainwater in repurposed whiskey barrels and excess condensation from air-conditioning to use for irrigation and on-site gardens. Their onsite restaurant, Kona Pub, is able to recycle 53,000 gallons of water a year and offset nearly 9 percent of brewing water needs. Kona made its bottles 11 percent lighter six years ago, which helps to eliminate 3,375 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually—the equivalent of taking 638 cars off the road. Local Hawaiian ingredients are used in the brewing process, including Kona coffee, ginger, lemongrass, and cacao nibs. All great reasons to sample one of the brewery’s 14 brews.

Distinguished Programs supports the green efforts being implemented by the hospitality industry and others. We have enriched our insurance program by supporting those that implement environmental initiatives through AGPOM (Association of Green Property Owners and Managers). AGPOM is a 501(c)(6) non-profit organization that helps property owners and managers realize the value of environmental-friendly pursuits while offering incentives that stimulate participation. For more ways to implement green behaviors in your restaurant see the AGPOM Green Property Plan for Restaurants.