Greening the restaurant scene

2013-09-23T12:15:00Z Greening the restaurant sceneLauri Harvey Keagle lauri.keagle@nwi.com, (219) 852-4311 nwitimes.com

Eloise Karlatiras wasn't your typical student waiting tables to put herself through college.

"While everyone else was managing the front of house and back of house, I took the job to a completely different level," Karlatiras says.

She created a sustainability plan and conducted a waste audit for Piece Pizzeria & Brewery in Chicago's Wicker Park.

"They were generating quite a bit of waste in organic materials," she says. "I tried to figure out how to divert that from the landfill."

The eventually helped the microbrewery partner with Growing Power, a national organization with a Chicago arm aimed at growing healthy crops for local food consumption.

The project got a lot of attention, including from the Green Chicago Restaurant Coalition, which hired her as their president and CEO in 2011. She quickly incorporated the organization.

"Any time you give a formal structure for people to participate in a specific way, you shake out the group of folks who are nominally involved and build up the group that is truly committed and that's when you get the good attention," she says.

The Green Chicago Restaurant Coalition runs the Guaranteed Green Campaign, a consumer education program aimed at educating consumers on restaurants, caterers and other food service professionals that have achieved a high level of environmental responsibility.

Participating businesses are accredited after undergoing a rigorous certification process to guarantee they meet high standards in sustainable food purchasing, environmentally sound cleaning products, disposables and furnishings and in the areas of energy, water and waste management.

Once accredited, the establishment may use the Guaranteed Green emblem in promotions.

Some of the nearly 30 participating businesses include celebrity chef Rick Bayless' Frontera Grill and Xoco, Lincoln Park Zoo,  Lou Malnati's Pizza and Uncommon Ground, which has been deemed the greenest restaurant in the nation twice over.

"It was an incredibly educational and challenging process and we implemented many steps to eventually certify both of our locations as 4-star green restaurants," Helen Cameron, co-owner of Uncommon Ground says.

"This required some investment, but as a result we have saved thousands of dollars in paper good and energy expenses, have found access to many more local products and created a much healthier environment for our staff and guests."

Karlatiras said research is showing consumers are willing to pay for the costs associated with green dining. The Green Chicago Restaurant Coalition partnered with the University of Chicago for a consumer research project that showed diners in their 20s in particular are willing to pay around $5 more per meal for a product they deem environmentally preferable or local.

"That's huge because one of the most difficult areas of change for restaurants is price and consistency," Karlatiras said.

The study also found consumers are drawn to items deemed local, sustainable and organic.

"What's great is being able to make that message available to consumers," she says. "They don't have to worry about whether it is meeting their interests and needs. They can see the label and know."

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