The hardest pill to swallow about climate change is that everyone is guilty of contributing in some form, from humans driving gas-guzzling SUVs, to restaurants sizzling up prime wagyu steaks under an inefficient vent hood.
Because most restaurants can leave seriously obese carbon footprints, we spoke with Anthony Myint of the nonprofit ZeroFoodprint (ZFP) to learn some of the ways a restaurant can reduce its negative effects on the environment.
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In closed loop farming, fish excrement fertilizes plants, then the plant material is used to feed the fish. It's one of the most resource-efficient farming techniques around, and patronizing these types of farms allows them to keep fighting the good fight.
Given the right composting infrastructure, discarded food can be a resource instead of trash. Not only can restaurants keep organic matter from heading to a landfill, they can actually use it to grow herbs and produce, or donate it to a local composting collective.
Serve less beef
Going vegetarian is the most efficient way to save energy, but since most people won't cut out meat anytime soon, the best compromise is to serve less beef, which creates three times the gas emissions as pork or chicken.
Buy carbon credits
Myint admits that no matter how hard a restaurant tries, it's impossible to have no footprint. For conscientious restaurateurs, the solution is to offset excess pollution by donating to a food-based carbon credit program. One example is a dairy farm in upstate New York that started a methane digester to collect gas from its cows.
Replace underperforming equipment
The long lifespan of kitchen equipment encourages a use-it-until-it-breaks mentality, but many newer, energy-efficient machines like refrigerators actually pay for themselves over time. Common sense advances in cook wear, like ridged pan bottoms that take greater advantage of surface area, are another simple way to lower energy waste.
Turn off the damn hood
The vents over a stove can use insane amounts of energy, especially if left running during prep or when there's no actual cooking happening. Even a simple feature like a high/low setting can make Mother Earth cry one less tear.
Ditch water-cooled ice machines
The freezing mechanism inside ice machines is governed by either cold air or circulating water. Water-driven machines use roughly a gallon of water per pound of ice, which is much less efficient than their air-powered counterparts.
Properly design bar areas
The more small refrigerators a bar has, the more energy its wasting. A larger walk-in situated strategically to allow easy access for bartenders immediately cuts down the waste from excess compressors.
ZFP audited Copenhagen's revered Noma, one of the best restaurants in the world, to learn about its energy use. They found that by switching from a coal-based energy provider to a renewable energy source, the restaurant was able to immediately decrease its carbon load by one third. Not all American cities offer clean energy electricity, but taking advantage of it if offered is the simplest way to make a serious impact.
Support progressive farmers
The “carbon ranching” movement implements a unique approach to cattle raising to use farmland more efficiently. By controlling grazing patterns so that cows eat grass with more shallow root structures, it allows older perennial plants to draw carbon out of the atmosphere and into the ground, which decreases the overall carbon load of an inefficient protein like beef.
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Dan Gentile is a staff writer at Thrillist. His carbon footprint is a size 10.5. Follow him to trouble purchasing appropriate-sized footwear at @Dannosphere.