Chicago restaurants are going to get a whole lot greener -- and it's going to be easy for diners to spot them, too.
That's the hope behind a new initiative of the Green Chicago Restaurant Co-Op, a sustainable food buying co-op started two years ago by restaurateurs Dan Rosenthal (Trattoria No. 10, Sopprafina MarketCafe) and Ina Pinkney (Ina's).
In the Guaranteed Green program, launched this morning, restaurants that attain green certification by either the Green Restaurant Association or Green Seal will be given a label that they can display as prominently as they would, say, their Zagat review.
The co-op also has partnered with the city to list the green-designated eateries on the city's tourism Web site.
"So many people are having so much difficulty determining what's green and what's not," Rosenthal says. "You've heard the term 'green fatigue.' We wanted to put a stake in the ground and really clarify for Chicago's dining community what a green restaurant should be."
Certification through either of the two independent, national groups isn't an easy, or quick, process. It can take a good half a year and cost a few thousand dollars for a restaurant that makes less than $1 million annually to get certified. Restaurants have to meet criteria in areas such as water efficiency, building materials, cleaning supplies and pollution reduction. And, Rosenthal adds, "The programs are all designed to be ongoing. Certification lasts one year."
But what about the little guys who don't want to, or aren't financially able to, go through the process, yet are truly sustainable operations that fit the "green" definition -- much like small farmers who bypass the costly organic certification process but are, at their core, organic?
"Eventually, their voice won't be as loudly heard as those that do go through the program," Rosenthal says.
Twenty-five area food businesses -- Bleeding Heart Bakery, Blue Plate Catering, Keefer's and Uncommon Ground, among them -- have so far signed up to get certified. In fact, the Dining Room at Kendall College already passed certification and will get its Guaranteed Green label "as soon as our printer finishes it," Rosenthal says.