How Some Restaurants are Fighting Climate Change

If the coronavirus pandemic is the main entrée for 2020, then climate change is the dessert. Not only is climate change fueling the wildfires and hurricanes battering the country, but the root causes of climate change also increases the risk of pandemics, according to public health experts.

Three 3-star Michelin restaurants in Napa Valley burned to the ground because of the Glass Fires raging across Sonoma and Napa counties. Among the ashes were

Dominique Crenn, chef-owner of San Francisco’s Atelier Crenn and the only female chef to be awarded three Michelin stars, took to Instagram to say as much as the Glass Fires in Sonoma and Napa Counties in California incinerated The Meadowood Napa Valley Resort, The St. Helena’s Resort, and The Grill at Meadowood.

“Heartbreaking loss of an iconic, gorgeous resort in Napa,” she wrote. “We wish safety for those fighting the fires and everyone in Napa/Sonoma … And let’s wake up .. climate change is real … the planet is burning…”

Even without wildfires, Yelp estimates that over 60 percent of business closures caused by COVID are now permanent. Those that are left must adapt to a new environment created by these closures, one that includes offering sustainable products and fighting for a better climate.

Research by McKinsey found that an astonishing 75 percent of consumers report trying a new shopping trend since COVID-19 began. These consumers are young, high-income, and support businesses that practice sustainability.

Some restaurants and foodservice companies are well ahead of this trend and have successfully implemented means of removing pollution from their operations. Here are just a few of the ways.

Taking the “Cold Food Pledge”

Restaurants are very energy-intensive, and use about “5 to 7 times more energy per square foot than other commercial buildings, such as office buildings and retail stores,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Two of the largest ways restaurants consume their energy is through HVAC systems and food preparation. Some companies such as Energy Star sell energy-efficient appliances, but researchers are also concerned about reducing the time spent prepping food.

The Hunter College Food Policy Center released policy guidelines in March that aim to encourage restaurants to cut back on serving hot food to save energy costs and reduce their carbon footprint.

Known as the “Cool Food Pledge,” program participants go through a three-phase transition to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2030, learn how to serve plant-rich food without sacrificing profit margins, and promote sustainability among their employees.

According to Hunter College’s website, the program is an initiative of the World Resources Institute, UN Environment Program, Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance, and The Sustainable Restaurant Association. Foodservice company Sodexo is a supporter.

Current program members span several industries that touch food service, including municipal governments, hospitality behemoths, and tech companies. International restaurant chains like Max Burgers from Sweden and food product manufacturers like Monde Nissin also participate.

Banning Food Waste

Cities across the country are stepping in and forcing their restaurants to address their carbon footprint.

On July 1, the Vermont legislature passed a law prohibiting restauranteurs and residents from throwing away food waste—leftovers, food scraps, coffee grounds, etc.—into their trashcans. According to the state’s website, “If it was once part of something alive, like a plant or animal, it does not belong in the landfill.”

Under the new law, restaurateurs and residents are encouraged to compost their food waste, use them to feed animals or send them to their local Waste Management District for disposal.

According to Josh Kelly, Materials Management Section Chief for the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (VDEC), the impact of the program could be equivalent to taking approximately 9000 cars off the road annually.

Other materials such as polystyrene foam were also given the boot under the new law. They can

be used to serve meat in grocery stores, but restaurants are no longer allowed to use them for to-go orders.

For Phillip Bissonnette, owner of Still Smokin’ BBQ in Essex Junction, the changes are worthwhile and long overdue.

“It’s a little more money but it’s well worth it,” he told NECN.  “We’re trying to be as green as we can be. We’ve got to stay here for a while, you know.”

Adopting a Climate Change Surcharge

Restaurants in California have been adding a new one-percent add-on line item to their receipts since late 2019, the Restore California Surcharge.

The surcharge was developed in April 2019 by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) and two local restauranteurs, Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz—who own Mission Chinese Food, the Perennial, and recently-shuttered Commonwealth—“to help local farmers implement climate beneficial farming practices” which relies on grant funding from CDFA, according to the program’s website.

The program is designed to promote the farm-to-table movement by encouraging farmers to implement regenerative practices and concentrate on soil health.

Restaurants can participate, though only funds raised by California restaurants go toward the Restore California program. Some current participants in California include 20th Century Café, Stag Dining, and Lord Stanley. Out-of-state participants include Annette (CO), Barley Swine (TX), and Mo’s Original (NY). A complete list of participants can be found here.

Program supporters include the James Beard Foundation, Golden Gate Restaurant Association, and the California Green Business Network.

Soil Health

Carbon is a key element of healthy soil. It increases water retention, improves structure, and can determine both the yield and quality of crops. However, agricultural practices often release carbon from soils faster than they can be replaced. In turn, this contributes to global warming.

Dogfish Head Craft Brewery recently released Re-Gen-Ale, a traceable-sourced Saison brewed with the help of company partner Indigo Agriculture, a Boston-based agricultural technology company that provides growers incentives to store carbon in their soils by adding cover crops and reducing tillage. The brewery also committed to purchasing more carbon credits than necessary to offset the brewing of Re-Gen-Ale.

Country Crock is currently working with No-till on the Plains, an agricultural education non-profit, on a three-year program designed to educate farmers about soil health and using plant cover crops to improve soil health on fields. Cover crops slow erosion and improve water retention in soils. They include buckwheat, red clover, and winter rye.

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