We began exploring Green Restaurant Certification for our school accounts in 2004. It started because of a conversation with one of our clients, who said, “Besides athletics, you are the biggest user of energy on my campus. So anything you can do to cut down on energy consumption and reduce costs would be very helpful.” Well, we had just started looking into Green Restaurant Certification, so I was able to tell him that there was a program that could help. He became our pilot account. We currently have 26 locations participating. Nineteen are certified, and we are adding four more as we speak. Five of them have gotten additional stars from the Green Restaurant Association.
The process for certifying is basically the same as it is for restaurants, and it’s similar to LEED certification. There are several areas that are evaluated, such as recycling and composting, and you make changes as needed to comply with the certification. For example, you need to get rid of Styrofoam. If you’re not composting, you should start a program. You take a look at your lighting, your electricity usage and your water usage. We submit invoices [to the certification process] for the various foods we purchase. We send photos of things we’ve done to meet Green certification requirements. All documentation is handled via email or fax. Depending on how motivated the school is, it can take up to a couple of months to gather all the required information. This gets sent to a Green Restaurant consultant, who reviews everything and then makes suggestions as to what you can do to find more points.
For example, you might be told you should purchase low-flow spray heads for your dish machines. That could cost you $60 or $80, but the potential savings could be as much as $1,200 a year in water usage.
To become certified, a school needs to accumulate 100 points. Then you need to continue to make changes in order to maintain your certification. By the end of the second year, you need to have 110 points for certification, in the third year you need 120 points and so on. And you can earn additional “stars” by taking extra steps to improve your green efforts.
This is not something we do on our own. It is always a partnership with the school. Sometimes it is the headmaster we work with. In other cases it might be the business officer or even the school’s sustainability club.
Typically, a school can become certified within nine or 10 months of the school year. But there are factors or variables that can hinder the process, such as change in administration or staff turnover. So in that regard it is not as easy as getting a restaurant certified.
We receive monthly assessment reports stating what our schools have achieved, and the report is put in everyday terminology so that our clients and students can understand and relate to it. For example, we were told that as of January we’ve saved enough water from certified schools to fill three Olympic-size swimming pools, and that we’ve saved 13,000 therms of energy, the equivalent of taking 14 cars off the road for a year.
When we started, we had only four schools that wanted to become certified, and now we will soon have 30. If we can continue to add four or five or six schools a year that will please me.