Michael Oshman, founder and executive director of the Green Restaurant Association, says educating “consumers and restaurateurs [and] effecting change one bite at a time” has become his mission. Recently he talked about progress the industry has made in becoming more eco-friendly.
Is the restaurant industry rising to the challenge quickly enough?
There is a lot of interest, but I don’t know if any aspect of our society is rising quickly enough to the challenge. In action we are not where we need to be, but at least we are moving in the right direction. Think of this analogy: You have to get people to be ready to go to school before they have an appetite to learn. We have a lot of people now ready to go to school.
What’s the biggest misconception operators have about going green?
They think it is going to cost too much or take too long. People are spending a lot of time trying to figure it out on their own, often getting the wrong products and making the wrong moves. If they do it the wrong way, it can cost a lot of time and money and still end up doing nothing for the environment.
Are there actual savings involved with going green?
I’ll give you examples of two big pieces to the puzzle: monthly reductions and waste reduction. Anything you are paying for on a monthly basis, such as gas, electricity, garbage [collection] and water, we can save money. For instance, with composting, garbage bins aren’t as full so [operators] pay less for garbage pickup and reduce waste at the same time. The second piece, waste reduction, often involves purchasing and using fewer items.
Where do you hope the movement goes from here?
My hope is happening right now: Some very large industry players are asking what they can do. We look forward to the day when there are no toxic chemicals being used and no garbage put out, where all food is grown in a sustainable way, where restaurants all use recycled packaging and energy is generated by solar and wind power. It is all doable.
Are people going green to save money or save the environment?
Yes and yes. Give me one person, including me, who doesn’t want to save money, and every human being cares about the resources that support them, wants clean water to drink. If you can operate in a way to save money and save the environment, everybody wins.