What’s next? A company that can calculate the GHG emissions of single menu items

Beyond the experience of a good meal, many of us don’t think about everything behind the scenes that goes into a meal at a restaurant, even when we have a practice of gratitude that causes us to pause before diving in.

Envision in your mind the whole sequence of events behind your meal.  There are all the supplies and materials used at the farm and/or fishery level (“where did your food come from?”), there’s the energy for processing and packaging, there’s the transportation to get from processing to restaurant, there’s the energy used at the restaurant itself, and then there are outputs: fed people, paid restaurant workers and food waste.  

Sustainable Restaurant Group (SRG), based in the Pacific NW area of the U.S., came together out of a shared goal of maximizing the benefits all these events, supply-chain relationships and resource uses.  One big concern of SRG is greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the associated climate effects.  SRG turned to Blue Star Integrative Studio (BSIS), a planning, design, green building and green business evaluation firm, to help gauge those impacts.  There is a well-established process – “greenhouse gas accounting” – to collect the gallons of fuel, the kWh of electricity, the miles traveled by truck or boat, and other relevant numbers, and convert that into climate impact.  What BSIS looked at: farm-level and fishing fleet GHG, transportation from fishery and farm to port, transport from port to Portland, refrigeration energy in transport, fugitive refrigerant emissions during transport, transport of other supplies (like wine and rice and vinegar), and energy use at the restaurant.
BSIS staff have been conducting greenhouse gas inventories for over 10 years, as a key part of our Pacific Coast practice in green business and green building evaluation.  

In interviewing David Jaber at BSIS, here’s what he had to say about why companies are tackling this work:

“Ultimately, the goal is to inform smart business strategy around what we see as climate risks and responsibilities.  If you lookthe vast bulk of companies understand that climate change is something to which they need to pay attention, like any other business risk.  It’s a clear risk whether they care about what customers think and want, what they expect regulators to do in any area of the world in which they do business, or whether they’re worried about upsets in their supply chain.  The responsibility, then, is not only to communities and the world at large, but also shareholders in responsibly running the business.

This is exactly why our tag line says “environmental excellence” as well as “quality design” and “smart community building”.  We see all this work as connected, focusing on building healthy communities in right relationship to the land, whether we’re master planning with rural and tribal communities or helping urban businesses improve their relationship with the surrounding living systems.
After counting the climate impact numbers, the question becomes “what can you do about those impacts?” Sustainable Restaurant Group has been very intentional about their relationships with suppliers, which allows them to do things that other restaurants might not do, working with smaller responsible suppliers where they can have more leverage and who are also already mission-aligned.  However, it’s the larger restaurant chains that will shift the larger mainstream suppliers that are in the process of shifting to climate responsibility already.  For one, McDonald’s has run the numbers. (http://corporate.mcdonalds.com/mcd/sustainability/planet/climate-and-energy/mcdonald-s-enterprise-carbon-footprint.html)  And although the U.S. federal executive branch withdrew from the Paris Agreement in early June, the mainstream U.S. business community continues to manage business risks, as they always have, and those risks now clearly include climate.  
In any event, next time you’re in Portland, check out the sushi! And know the people behind it are being very intentional about how your meal gets to you in the best possible way.

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