A ‘Green’ Restaurant Identity

In today’s economic climate, owners of restaurants are relying on every competitive advantage in order to stay ahead. Many restaurateurs are becoming more profitable by adopting environmental practices and are utilizing the resources of the Green Restaurant Association (GRA) to meet these ends.

In contrast to the perception that the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED® is the legal and only benchmark of sustainability, there are other reputable standards developed by other organizations such as the GRA.

Through the GRA, headquartered in Boston, MA, restaurants can become Certified Green Restaurants®.

In an interview with Michael Oshman, Executive Director, Green Restaurant Association (GRA), Oshman said, “We don’t think of the U.S. Green Building Council (and LEED) as competition.

A program that makes sense is one that is geared to a specific industry. LEED is great for offices, but for restaurants, the GRA makes sense. Restaurateurs receive the greatest advantage by becoming a Certified Green Restaurant ®, which is only something they can do with the GRA.”


Green Space Today
Michael Oshman
Courtesy of the GRA

Readers, even if a restaurateur exceeds the standards of the GRA’s certification, those owners still need to purchase GRA certification to be categorized and marketed as a Certified Green Restaurant®. Please e-mail us your thoughts at

While headquartered in Boston, MA, the GRA extends its green consulting resources in 35 states. In separate interviews with owners of Certified Green Restaurants, individuals expressed the following sentiment:

- Jim Solomon, Owner/Chef, The Fireplace Restaurant, Brookline, MA
“Our status as a Certified Green Restaurant has improved The Fireplace’s bottom and top lines. It has improved our image in the public’s eye and has given me the opportunity to develop relationships with sustainable leaders in the city.

We use products endorsed by the GRA including one produced by Earth Alive that cleans everything from floors to silverware and even eats leftover grease (in drains) that prevents the build-up of fruit flies. It is OSHA friendly and when I was done using it, I blew it into my mouth to show the staff how safe it is.”

Green Space Today
Sweetgreen, Bethesda, MD
Courtesy of Michael Moran
Green Space Today
Sweetgreen has incorporated furniture made out of recycled bowling allies. Furniture produced by Jim Malone of Counter Evolution NYC.
Courtesy of Michael Moran
One such product that has recently been endorsed by the GRA is Vegawatt™. Vegawatt is a product that enables restaurants to operate on recycled vegetable oil. Ben Prentice, VP of Sales, Vegawatt, told Green Space Today, “Instead of paying someone to take the oil away, the oil takes on a higher value (through Vegawatt) of $2.70/gallon; thus, our product can bring a fast ROI to restaurateurs.”

Green Space Today

Left: George Carey, owner of Finz Seafood & Grill in Dedham, Massachusetts, standing next to Vegawatt™ Power System.
Right: Mark Wallace, Shawmut Design & Construction


Jeremy Barlow, Owner/Chef, Tayst, Nashville, TN
“We decided to run with it (certification) because we wanted to compliment my passion for organic cuisine. The GRA gave us the direction we needed and through my research, we found the GRA to be credible. Our certification has given Tayst a rebirth-the added business helps employee moral.”

-Nic Jammet, Co-Owner, Sweetgreen, multiple locations in the Washington D.C. area, “For us (Nic Jammet and his partners), we opened the first (of three) Sweetgreen at the end of our senior year at Georgetown University. We are young owners and want to build a strong brand. The greening of our restaurant has become more appropriate in D.C., especially since Obama has taken office. We are the first 3 Star Certified Green Restaurant® in the US.”

Green Space Today
Rouge Tomate (NYC)
Courtesy of Shawmut Design & Construction
Green Space Today
Rouge Tomate (NYC)
Courtesy of Shawmut Design & Construction

Like The Fireplace Restaurant, Tayst, and Sweetgreen, Rouge Tomate (located in Belgium and now New York City), is a Certified Green Restaurant as well as a LEED certified space that values the role of sustainability as a cornerstone to the dining experience and to the restaurant’s brand identity.

Shawmut Design & Construction was the builder of Rouge Tomate (NYC).

Mark Wallace, Estimator, Hospitality Group, Shawmut Design & Construction, told Green Space Today, “This was an exciting project for all of us because it was special for a restaurant client to come forward and say that sustainability was a core value to the dining and building of the restaurant.”

Despite the GRA’s growing popularity and credibility, not all restaurants that display significant ‘green’ elements are Certified Green Restaurants.

One such dining hot-spot is Uncommon Ground, located in Chicago. Uncommon Ground is home to the first Certified Organic Roof Top Farm in the nation. This certification was delivered by the Midwest Organic Services Association (MOSA).

This year, Uncommon Ground plans to grow over 1000 lbs of fresh vegetables (to be served internally) on its roof. Uncommon Ground’s co-owner Helen Cameron told Green Space Today, “We want to prove that it is possible to grow a lot of vegetables in an urban setting and we are using the farm as an educational tool for students and customers alike.”

Green Space Today
From left to right: Alderman Patrick O'Connor; Helen Cameron, Co-Owner, Uncommon Ground; Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley; Natalie Pfister, Rooftop Farm Coordinator, Uncommon Ground; and Michael Cameron, Co-Owner, Uncommon Ground celebrate on July 11, 2009 at a ribbon cutting ceremony that commemorated the first Certified Organic Rooftop Farm in the U.S.
Courtesy of Zoran Orlic

Michael Cameron, Co-Owner, Uncommon Ground added, “While we are not members of the GRA, we are members of the Chicago Green Restaurant Coop. Uncommon Ground is not LEED certified, but the U.S. Green Building Council’s Chicago Chapter recognized us with its EnvironMOTION” Award.”

Although the restaurant industry has been hit hard by rising energy and food costs, owners are investing in ‘green’ to make ‘green’ and to make environmental strides and are doing so through organizational resources and associative marketing.