Tuesday, March 13, 2007

More of the same

In my previous rant about carbon offsets, I blogged my annoyance about people who buy carbon offsets as a way of then feeling good about using as much energy as they wanted. There was a story on Day to Day today about something similar, and one of the commentators actually made this point, which I thought was great.

In this story, they reported on a trend of restaurants that were "going green" by trying to implement energy-saving policies in order to get a certification from the Green Restaurant Association. This sounds great on the surface, as understandably restaurants use an enormous amount of energy, produce a ton of waste, and use a lot of water. There are many things the restaurants can do such as recycle their fryer oil, compost their food waste, use recycled products etc. that make great impacts.

However, one of the restaurant owners was really honest and said that along with wanting to do good, she hoped that this would encourage more people to come into her store because her customers were really environmentally conscious. And that gets to the main point, which James Goldstein, a senior fellow at an environmental research group made really well - there are incompatibilities with a consumer society and sustainability. Ultimately restaurants are going green to try to get us to buy more - and we can only be really sustainable if we try to consume less. So overall, while I laud the effort of the Green Restaurant Association and I'm glad that restaurants are interested in saving resources (and money, since they end up spending less on energy and garbage) I'm wary that overall this will just cause people to wrench their arms out of their sockets patting themselves on the back and then go on to buy more.


Anonymous said...

Re: Sabragirl's posting "More of the Same"

I share your concern. Businesses becoming more environmentally sustainable is not an excuse for people to not learn to consume less. But the reality for the vast majority of Americans right now is that if they want to go out to eat... they are going to go out to eat, and therefore the question is "How can they dine at a restaurant and have a total lower environmental impact?" So, a consumer dining at a Certified Green Restaurant™ that is using 20% less energy, more local and organic foods, safer cleaners, and 30% less water... will truly have a lower environmental impact by dining at that restaurant versus a conventional restaurant. And why shouldn't a restaurant want customers to dine at their establishment because they are a Certified Green Restaurant™? Wouldn't you rather a business that is having a lower impact to market themselves to consumers... to make it easy for consumers to choose their business versus the one that is having a much larger impact. I think you would agree that it is good that Toyota is marketing its Prius in such a way that a consumer can know that it gets better gas mileage and is a partial zero emission vehicle. It is crucial that customers know that Phillps Alto light bulbs have lower mercury versus some competitors. Does this claim mean that people will use more light? Of course not. Yes, we all have to examine what we eat, drive... how we invest, where we work, etc. That is true, and we are responsible for lower our personal environmental impact year by year. One way to do that is to examine how we can reduce unnecessary consumption. Equally important is to examine when we do consume... how to do it in with the least impact. When somebody is choosing to dine at a restaurant, which is a common choice for Americans, it is vital that there are restaurant options that will help consumers lower their impact. If you never go to restaurants, eat low on the food chain, local and organic at your house, then that is great. I personally try to do that myself. But for the vast majority of Americans who eat out 5+ times per week, I think you would agree that it is important to take this 1/10th of the American economy towards a place of sustainability, restaurant by restaurant, four environmental steps per year.

Take care,
Michael Oshman
Green Restaurant Association
Executive Director

SabraGirl said...

I totally agree (and by the way am suprised and excited that you took the time to reply to my 'lil ol blog :-) that whatever we can do to make restaurants be more eco-friendly is great. My concern is that the type of people who will be drawn to this rating (myself included!) are exactly those people who might otherwise choose to eat raw veggies at home (okay, exaggeration there) and instead will now make a choice to eat out. Nonetheless, I think there are many more people who don't think about their consumption and will go to restaurants regardless - so having incentives in place to get restuarants to conserve is overall a good thing.