Sunday, December 16, 2007

Wolves in Kermit’s clothing

Does an organic menu qualify a restaurant as green? How about a pledge to feature only sustainable seafood? Or meat exclusively from humanely farmed animals? And what about all the places that now recycle their fryer oil into bio-diesel? Skeptics say a vehicle running on that fuel still emits more pollutants than a hybrid gas-burner might, so the environmental benefit may be more limited than the public realizes.

You can’t blame the average citizen for being confused. What, exactly, does “earth-friendly” mean, and how does that differ from “eco-safe,” or even green? And how about descriptors like “recyclable?” Does that mean the item in question is actually being kept out of the landfills for re-use, or merely that it could be?

And don’t forget technical terms like RoHS—“restriction of hazardous substances,” for those of you who don’t have a degree in electrical engineering. It’s the standard that was adopted by the European Union to designate electrical equipment produced without the use of certain environmental toxins. It’s already creeping into use within the United States as a desirable designation for restaurants and other businesses that want to be green, and California has already prohibited the sale of electronics that fail to meet RoHS criteria. Other states are considering a similar ban.

Those are some of the issues we’re facing as we strive to expand our coverage of the green movement, a mega-trend to be sure, but one that has more charlatans and pretenders than a gathering of hair-restorer pitchmen. Indeed, there’s a term for it—“greenwashing,” or purposely giving something a green connotation regardless of the true environmental impact. If we’re having trouble sorting out fact from assertion, and this is a focus of ours, how can anyone expect a restaurateur to find the time for some deciphering work?

Yet, fortunately for all of us, there are some operators who are determined to do the right thing, including the necessary debunking. Truth be told, some of us scoff that they’re only doing it to appease customers or employees who want a greener operation. They’re doing it for marketing considerations, not to save the spotted owls, according to that line of criticism.

But so what? If those restaurateurs are investing the time and effort to do the right thing, , their efforts should nonetheless be celebrated regardless of their motivation.

And that’s exactly what we plan to do. Stayed tuned for new online features that spotlight what restaurateurs are doing to operate in a more ecologically responsible manner, and what kind of return they’re seeing on a true investment. We’ll try to stay clear of the semantics and focus on the effects, business-wise and environmentally.

1 comment:

  1. You know, this reminds me of how wine is marketed in America vs. the rest of the world. I this country, 'Reserve' means nothing as it relates to the quality of the wine, whereas in France, it actually has means that the grapes were of a certain quality, from a certain part of the estate, etc.

    With the "green, eco-friendly, etc" argument, it seems that the NRA needs to come up with a true, consistent and industry-wide dynamic that defines what these labels mean, so that consumers can be confident in the choices they make.

    I don't think organic means green, although its greener than someone who doesn't use organic. The products may still both come on the same truck using regular gasoline to power it.