Sustainability: It’s Not a Fad

Richard Young, Senior Engineer and Director of Education

March was “sustainability month” around the FSTC. Thanks to the FSTC green team, we stepped up our in-house game and got our food waste composting program fully up and running. We also gave two Greener Restaurant Seminars, one in our NorCal shop and one down south at the beautiful new SDG&E Energy Innovation Center (http://sdge.com/eic). We were invited to contribute our knowledge to the upcoming National Restaurant Association Sustainability Report and we even helped a local high-school student with her own sustainability report. A common theme ran through all these activities: the greener restaurant is not a “feel-good fad” – sustainability is a technical challenge that is being embraced by the food service industry for solid business reasons.

The subject of “green” always generates a lot of dialogue and this was certainly the case in our Greener Restaurant seminars.  The FSTC speakers were joined by experts in recycling, composting, green building materials, green business certification and fat/oil/grease (FOG) pollution prevention. The discussion was deep, challenging, enlightening and above all, realistic. Here are some highlights:

  • We were introduced to Alameda County’s ground-breaking Green Materials Rebate Program by Wes Sullens at StopWaste.org (www.StopWaste.org/ ). There have been incentives for water-conservation and energy-efficiency for years but the idea to offer rebates for green building materials is unique and forward thinking. Hopefully, this pilot project will blossom into standard practice for municipalities across the US. For a taste of this program in action check out Awaken Café in Oakland (http://www.awakencafe.com/)
  • Paris Greenlee updated us on Bay Area Green Business Certification and explained how California Assembly Bill AB913 was helping this local initiative evolve into a statewide program (http://www.greenbusinessca.org/). California Green Business Certification is voluntary, free and verified by on-site visits from waste management, pollution prevention, and energy/water-efficiency experts.
  • Ana Carvalho, environmental specialist with the City of San Diego, led a dynamic and passionate discussion on why food waste reduction-rescue-and-recycling are so important. Ana runs a well-organized and highly-effective commercial Food Waste Recycling (composting) Program (http://www.sandiego.gov/environmental-services/miramar/greenery/compost.shtml) that turns garbage to gold in 10 weeks. But, she warned us, it is not without challenges. In an urban environment, they have to work smart to avoid odors and, to ensure top-quality compost, they are very selective about the waste they accept. The reality: about 63% of the commercially available compostable serving ware that Ana tested does not sufficiently biodegrade, so those items are still headed to the landfill. Ana’s take home was “Know the waste management best practices in your region.”
  • Recycling specialist, Eric Wolff, impressed us with examples of the huge amount of landfill waste – San Diego’s garbage could fill Qualcomm Stadium in less than three weeks – and the list of typical excuses for not recycling. Yes there are still folks who tell Eric that they “don’t believe there is a need to divert material from the landfill.” Fortunately, Eric came armed with case studies and examples of real savings like the casual dining restaurant that saves over $2,000 a year with their recycling program. The County of San Diego offers consultations, referrals and free recycling containers to their customers (http://www.sandiegocounty.gov/dpw/recycling/ ). This is often the case, so check with your city/county to see what free resources are available for small commercial businesses and implement a smart plan. A successful recycling program should save you money.
  • Fats, oils and grease (FOG) are environmental pollutants that clog up sewer lines and cause headaches for sewage treatment plants. Nadia Borisova with the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) is determined to educate restaurants about FOG and she shared EBMUD’s online materials (http://www.ebmud.com/fog ).
  • Kong Sham from the FSTC’s green team talked about what it took to become a certified California Green Business. Kong and his colleagues, Lauren Mills and Todd Bell, rid the lab of dangerous chemicals, upgraded the space to more efficient lighting and set up recycling and composting. It wasn’t always easy but we’ve learned one big lesson: once you start going greener in your facility, you will develop a culture of sustainability and everyone will pitch in and embrace the process. It only takes one green champion to raise everyone’s awareness.