Guaranteed Green: Chicago’s Green Restaurant Co-Op Sets the Bar High for The Windy City Food Industry

Chicago’s food scene is going green–one restaurant at a time. A destination known worldwide for its decadent cuisine, the windy city will soon be recognized for having some of the greenest restaurants in the U.S.  This summer, the Green Chicago Restaurant Co-op launched the Guaranteed Green Restaurant certification program. The Co-op was formed last year in order to provide a clear path for Chicago restaurants to become more environmentally friendly, and a way for consumers to choose to dine green when eating out.  The Guaranteed Green program launched with an inaugural class of twenty of Chicago’s finest restaurants, including celebrity chef Rick Bayless‚ world-famous Frontera Grill, and local favorites like Uncommon Ground and the Bleeding Heart Bakery. To qualify for Guaranteed Green certification, each restaurant must demonstrate adherence to a rigorous checklist of sustainability practices, including the purchase of eco-friendly food, cleaning products, serviceware, furnishings and environmentally-friendly management of energy, waste, and water.

At the press conference for the June 22 launch, held at eco-friendly Soprafinna Restaurant on 222 West Adams, owner and co-op chairman Dan Rosenthal shared his passion for greening the Chicago dining experience: “Six months ago we challenged the Chicago restaurant community to make bold changes to help protect the environment, and it responded in force,” said Rosenthal. “Today we are proud to announce the inaugural class of Guaranteed Green, twenty restaurants that challenged industry assumptions, invested time and money, and employed old-fashioned ingenuity to become more environmentally responsible.” Once certified, restaurants are allowed to feature the Guaranteed Green emblem–a sprouting green fork and leaf icon–in their front window.  The emblem is a visible signal to consumers that a restaurant is truly green.

For restaurant owners, the Guaranteed Green certification is one way to stay ahead of the curve in uncertain economic times.  At the event, chef Rick Bayless (http://www.rickbayless.com/ ) admitted to using locally-grown ingredients just to gain an edge in the industry.  As he learned more about the slow food movement, he gained a greater appreciation of the positive impact these efforts had on the environment, and slowly began incorporating more sustainable practices into all of his restaurants. Bayless owns three of Chi-town’s beloved restaurants–Frontera Grill, Topolbampo, and Xoco.  Given his meteoric rise in popularity as last year’s winner of Bravo TVs Top Chef Masters, his support for greening Chicago restaurants is sure to add momentum to the green restaurant movement.

For Helen Cameron, co-owner of Uncommon Ground (http://www.uncommonground.com) restaurant, the new Guaranteed Green program will put an end to greenwashing in the restaurant industry. It’s one thing to say you are green, but it’s quite another to prove it through a third party certification‚” said Cameron.  In 1991, she and her husband Michael opened their first location on North Clark Street in Wrigleyville featuring seasonal, regional, and organic ingredients.  Last year, Uncommon Ground premiered the first USDA-certified organic rooftop garden at that location, where they source food prepared at all of their restaurants, and hold garden tours and sustainability classes.

To that end, Chris Koetke, Dean of Kendall College School of Culinary Arts, discussed the importance of teaching sustainability as a part of restaurant education. At Kendall, sustainability is taught early in the curriculum in order to help students understand the impact they can make on the environment through a task as simple as cooking. http://kendall.edu/.

Representatives from the Mayor’s office attended the event to show their support for this large initiative towards Chicago’s efforts to be the greenest city in the U.S. Suzanne Malec-McKenna, Commissioner for the City of Chicago Chicago’s Department of Environment, voiced her unconditional support for the Guaranteed Green program.  She stated that she believes green certification is a positive trend that will one day become a reality everywhere. It was an easy idea for the city to get behind‚” said Malec-McKenna.

The press conference represented an important step in the Chicago food industry, positioning it not only as a city with great food and restaurants, but now as a city that is leading the forefront of providing a sustainable dining experience to all customers.  To see a list of all Guaranteed Green restaurants, visit www.buygreenchicago.org.

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