Brands without an environmental expert on hand who can proofread statements can seek out the assistance of a third-party organization such as the GRA to take out some of the guesswork.
“That’s great if you happen to have a restaurateur who’s also a scientist,” Oshman says. “Our experience over 20 years of working with restaurateurs is they’re busy. Even if they have an aptitude in that direction, even if you have a restaurateur who gets excited about those details, they generally don’t have the time [to become experts].”
That’s where the GRA comes in.
“Most of the restaurants that bring us into the process from the beginning know they’re going to end up with the right products at the end,” Oshman says. “We’re not the manufacturer, we’re not the distributor … we’re a nonprofit that’s vetted these products.”
Being a certified restaurant can help when dealing with the tricky issue of marketing, too.
“The restaurant’s not saying how great they are,” Oshman says. “We’re saying how great they are.”
But some green restaurant certification programs can be greenwashing in and of themselves.
“You can go online and pay $30 or $40 and get a nice sticker saying how green your business is,” Oshman says. “It’s really important who restaurants partner with.”
When promoting green efforts, Elmore also recommends educating the employees who interact with customers so they don’t provide misleading information.
“Make sure your line people understand what you’ve done,” she says. “Let them be your broadcaster.”
Other promotional options include table tents or signs that explain how exactly the company is working toward greener goals. But Elmore warns it’s essential to use recycled-content paper.
“You’ve got to be careful with printing,” she says. “When you print things and it’s for people to take, that’s not exactly green.”
For restaurants that care about sustainability, it’s yet another roadblock to watch out for. But as difficult as the entire process might be, “Why bother?” is no longer an option.
“I see environmental safety becoming as important as food safety,” Case says. “At some point, consumers are just going to assume that restaurants are engaged in environmental practices. They’re going to assume the napkins contain recycled content, or they’re going to assume you’re doing your best to get rid of excess waste. … It will come as a shock to people to find out you’re not doing that.”
And that shock can be every bit as disappointing to customers as finding out the truth about claims that are just greenwashing.