With patrons increasingly concerned about the origin and environmental impact of food they eat, a growing number of restaurants are looking for ways to reduce their impact and appropriately tell their green story to consumers.

The answer is certification by Green Seal, with the first nationally recognized standard for green restaurants, leaders of the Rainforest Alliance and 312 Chicago, a local restaurant, told media at the National Restaurant Association Show.

In fact, more than 95 percent of the environmental impact of U.S. restaurants is food, according to a recent analysis by Green Seal, a nonprofit leader in environmental certification for more than two decades.

“Our life-cycle analysis showed that agricultural production as well as distribution, storage, preparation, and disposal of food represent the vast majority of the impact of an operation. To truly make a difference you have to reduce these impacts,” says Cheryl Baldwin of Green Seal.

Kim Schwenke, pastry chef at 312 Restaurant in Chicago, says the restaurant is pursuing Green Seal certification because of the re-assurance it will provide to their customers who are increasingly concerned about sustainability.

“Green Seal certification aligns perfectly with the greening goals of 312 Chicago,” Schwenke says. “We are proving that we care as much about the health of the environment as we do about the health of our guests.”

More than half of the “Top 20 Trends for 2010” identified in the NRA’s annual chef survey relate to sustainability, says Sabrina Vigilante of the Rainforest Alliance, whose certification of responsibly produced food is one of seven recognized in the Green Seal standard.

“Rainforest Alliance certification provides assurance that coffee and other tropical commodities come from responsibly managed farms,” Vigilante says. “The little green frog seal on a product means forests, water, and soils are conserved, and that farmers in developing countries earn decent wages, have access to health care, education for their children, and dignified housing.”

Green Seal certified restaurants have significantly reduced their impact by responsible food purchasing, waste reduction, water and energy conservation, improving air quality, and providing proper staff training. Certification requires a site audit and regular monitoring. Following the Green Seal guidelines can reduce a restaurant’s overall environmental impact by an average of 75 percent, Baldwin says.

Reducing an operations’ footprint on the environment by 75 percent isn’t easy, but it identifies the industry’s leaders. “The certification process is very detailed and looks at every aspect of what we do. It’s definitely an award you have to earn,” Schwenke says.

Visit Green Seal’s website for more information about Green Seal’s restaurant certification.