At this month’s Green Drinks in Chicago, extroverted and engaging restauranteur Dan Rosenthal inspired the crowd with tales of his limitless efforts to green the city. When he realized that he could not afford for his restaurants to go green, Rosenthal partnered with fellow renowned restaurant owner and “Breakfast Queen” Ina Pinkney to launch the Green Chicago Restaurant Co-op in 2007. This was a significant step for the restaurant industry, but Rosenthal’s newest venture could bring even bigger changes to the windy city – he has revealed plans to open the largest food waste composting plant in the nation by the end of this year!
Photo by Mark Raulston, LEED AP
This month’s Green Drinks event asked each presenter to speak about their history and their sustainable efforts in 2009, so Rosenthal began by telling us how he has helped to green Chicago restaurants through the co-op. Most Chicagoans would know Rosenthal as the restaurateur behind some of the city’s famous haunts including Harry Caray’s, Trattoria NO.10, Poag Mahone’s and the chain of gourmet Sopraffina Marketcaffes.
The theory behind the Green Chicago Restaurnt Co-op is simple: businesses that join have the opportunity to buy green products like cups and bags in bulk, therefore cutting down costs. But things are more difficult than they sound, when you consider that the group has to identify suppliers and distributors that carry compostable or recycled content products. This also means that restaurant might have to break ties with their current suppliers. Lastly, even though buying in bulk saves money, buying green is still more costly that the “bad stuff.”
Since there is no fee to join, and no requirement to buy green, the 300+ co-op members have set up an effective alternative to the mainstream system. To allow more restaurants that go this extra mile, the Co-op has kicked off a Guaranteed Green program. If an establishment meets rigorous criteria for their food, cleaning products, food serviceware and furnishings, as well as management of energy, water, waste and air quality, then they receive the seal, and are added to the directory. If you are looking to eat green in Chicago, we suggest you visit one of the certified restaurants on their list or look for the logo throughout the city.
Rosenthal has also initiated a long list of greening efforts that stretch beyond the Co-op. All seven of his restaurants have passed the test to become certified green by the Coop, and he plans to certify an eigth restaurant to open this year. Last year on Earth Day, he introduced the city’s first Zap solar-electric powered delivery van for his Soprafina Marketcaffes.
After finishing the restaurant topic of his Green Talk, Rosenthal spoke about some very exciting news that could really bring change to Chicago. Last year, Rosenthal started a new venture called Chicago Composts LLC and submitted a proposal to the Chicago Department of Environment in hopes of receiving a grant of up to $100,000. The large-scale proposal plans to use food waste from area restaurants and commercial food producers to produce and sell high-end compost suitable for use in food production. Rosenthal stated that this food waste composting facility is slated to open by the end of the year and will be the largest of its kind in the nation!
Rosenthal noted that progressive state regulations passed in the summer of 2009 will be a catalyst for his future initiatives. The passing of Sentate Bill 99 means that it will be much easier for developers like Rosenthal to obtain permits for opening a food waste composting facility. “What it does is finally bring the state of Illinois up to speed with other states by recognizing the value of organics in the waste stream, and not calling them waste, but allowing them to be recaptured as valuable resources,” says Rosenthal.
This bill is a major step for sustainability in Illinois because it will reduce landfill waste from restaurants and other commercial food entities, which now account for over 1/3 of the total waste in the state. Composting facilities like the one proposed by Chicago Compost LLC will provide nutrient rich compost to local farms. They will also produce jobs in the state that currently has unemployment rate nearing 12%, with some areas of Chicago spiking to over 17% in joblessness.
There are Green Drinks events held in many major cities, but in Chicago we are lucky to have the Foresight Design Initiative hosting these educational and social networking gatherings. For those that are not able to attend in person, you can also watch all of the presentation online at Green Drinks TV.