Eat your greens

Certified Green Restaurants are about more than food

Chef Natalie Sellers of 4th St. Bistro says it’s not easy being green. Or certified green for that matter.

Chef Natalie Sellers of 4th St. Bistro says it’s not easy being green. Or certified green for that matter.

Photo By David Robert

For information about Certified Green Restaurants and the Green Restaurant Association, visit

Sezmu chef Larry Dunning is a bit frustrated. He serves as much sustainable, locally grown, organic food as he can. One of his servers takes home produce scraps to compost in her garden, and his landlord is supportive of energy-efficient measures. But Waste Management doesn’t recycle glass bottles for restaurants, local contractors have been resistant to some energy-efficient innovations, and if he wants to recycle the mounds of cardboard that come out of the restaurant, he has to take it himself.

So when the idea for a Certified Green Restaurant comes up, Dunning says, “It would be great, but it would really be difficult in Reno.”

Chef Natalie Sellers at 4th St. Bistro faces similar concerns. She, too, serves mostly local, sustainable, organic food. She recycles the restaurant’s waste herself, and she uses biodegradable to-go boxes. But she says it’s difficult to be “totally green.”

“We try to do everything you can as far as recycling, but when you’re in an older building, and we don’t own it, you have a lot of challenges,” she says. “I’d love for somebody to come in and say, ‘You can do this or that.’ Because it’s a lot of work to come up with it yourself.”

The Green Restaurant Association has developed a Green Restaurant Certification that helps restaurateurs work through these sorts of challenges.

“The concerns you have in Nevada are the same any restaurateur would have across the country—landlords, or distributors might not carry the stuff you want,” says GRA founder/ director Michael Oshman from his office in Boston, Mass. “That’s where we come in. Our whole job is to take a restaurant and help them become more sustainable in a way that makes business sense.”

There are currently 150 Certified Green Restaurants in the United States, the majority in Boston, New York and Southern California. While Reno has a handful of restaurants that take the environment into account—Sezmu, 4th St. Bistro, Beaujolais Bistro and Ciao, to name a few—no restaurant in town is Certified Green. The closest to Reno is Ike’s Quarter Café, about 85 miles away in Nevada City, Calif.

The Certified Green Restaurant logo—a knife and fork book-ending a plate holding the Earth—relays much more than the type of food served. It also means the restaurant is taking steps toward energy efficiency; water conservation; nontoxic cleaning products; pollution prevention; recycled, biodegradable, chlorine-free, tree-free and organic products (napkins, cup carriers, etc.); green building concepts and renewable energy.

To move toward certification, a restaurant, depending on its size, pays GRA between $700 and $3,000 a year. In return, they get an environmental assessment of their operations and a strategy for steps they can do throughout the year. The GRA works with landlords, distributors and others to make those steps happen. To be certified, the restaurant must recycle, be Styrofoam-free, and have made four environmental changes. Each following year, they’re to make four more changes. They also get use of the logo and marketing materials, and they’re listed on the GRA website (

And of course, the owner, staff and customers know the restaurant is helping to reduce the sizable environmental impact of the restaurant industry.