Getting a Fake Green Restaurant Certificate from the National Restaurant Association:
easy as 1, 2, 3…
Follow along as a restaurant called “Green Wallace Wash” (not a real restaurant) gets their green credentials from the National Restaurant Association.
To recap, in part one yesterday, we outlined the Greener Restaurants program sponsored by the National Restaurant Association (NRA). We showed how the NRA utilizes increased public awareness of green and sustainability issues to motivate restauranteurs to join the program (for a $250 annual subscription).
Through the NRA’s well-produced Conserve website and video, we learn how other successful restaurants are reaping the benefits of committing to implementation of sustainability best practices, attracting more eco-minded customers (and how more customers are becoming eco-minded).
The website (correctly) extols the advantages of becoming a “greener” restaurant, and the advantages of taking a step-by-step “best practices approach” to sustainability. An approach that not only can save money in the long run. It’s the right thing to do on a triple bottom line – benefiting people, planet, and profit.
It is a compelling story for restauranteurs, urging them to become part of an expanding group of like-minded business owners ready to blaze the trail for the future of American restaurants. And thus the story begins.
Now it’s time to find out if the NRA backs up this polished message with a real program worthy of the rhetorical flourish and, more importantly, worthy of trust. Or if underneath it is all just well-oiled greenwash.
Through an industry-insider tip, TheGreenwashingBlog shows how “Green Wallace Wash,” doing nothing more than paying the annual fee for membership and making a few selections on the website, produces not one, but three separate Greener Restaurant certificates, each verifying membership in the National Restaurant Association’s Greener Restaurant program. All for a restaurant that doesn’t even exist.
Scenario 1: One step (30 seconds to an NRA certified Greener Restaurant)
The following video shows Green Wallace Wash logging in, then choosing an option indicating the restaurant is creating a “green marketing plan.” Within seconds a certificate is available for downloaded on their computer. With that certificate also comes additional marketing materials, such as a handy decal to display on your front door (if you have one), and a listing in the NRA’s “Green Dining Finder.”
Scenario 2: Upping the Ante – Claiming Assessment of Energy and Water Use (90 seconds to a Greener Restaurant)
This video shows Green Wallace Wash taking the story a bit further. Five items are clicked, claiming that local utilities have done an assessment of energy and water use. Remember, this restaurant isn’t real. There is no requirement to verify that such assessments from the utilities were actually done. It took 90 seconds in this case to get a Greener Restaurants certificate from the National Restaurant Association.
Scenario 3: Going all out – taking every step possible (5 minutes to a Greener Restaurant)
Nothing is spared in our third example. Green Wallace Wash is the greenest restaurant possible in the eyes of the National Restaurant Association. In this video, every option is checked: 40 items for Energy Efficiency, 11 for Water Conservation, 18 in Waste Reduction, 10 in Building/Construction, and 11 for Program Administration. Whew! That was exhausting. Five whole minutes to certification – and not one of the 90 items checked are verified, accomplished, or even planned for our imaginary restaurant.
As we plainly see in these three examples, all that is required for endorsement by the National Restaurant’s Greener Restaurant program is payment of a fee and basic computer skills. And with such endorsement comes an assurance from the NRA that a restaurant is planning, pursuing, and implementing sustainability best practices. In fact, it doesn’t even require an actual restaurant. Nonetheless, we see how easy it is to get an instantly downloadable certificate, a listing on the NRA’s “Green Dining Finder,” and other marketing materials, including use of the Greener Restaurant logo on a decal to put on your door informing your eco-monded customers just how green you are – even if you aren’t.
And what if you really are a restaurant owner, interested in actually doing what you – and the NRA – say you’re doing? Good for you. You are doing the right thing.
The problem is that not every owner is as honest as you are, unfortunately making the Greener Restaurant certificate from the NRA all but meaningless.
Recognition vs. certification
By calling Greener Restaurants a “recognition program,” the National Restaurant Association seeks to shift responsibility for benchmarking and verification, while at the same time claiming to retain the authenticity and legitimacy that comes with an honest and transparent green practices program. How can this be?
In the brief audio clip that follows, Chris Moyer, manager of the NRA’s Greener Restaurant program, says in a recorded telephone conversation that the “push-back” from some complaining there are no benchmarking and verification requirements is answered by the expectation that such methods will be employed “every day by the customer”.
My guess is that many or most of the steps in the Greener Restaurants program are out of sight of the average customer, who would have neither the knowledge nor the tools to understand if best practices were used or not, even if they did have access.
The customer relies on the very sort of endorsement that is both explicit and implicit in an official looking decal pasted on a restaurant’s front door confirming the establishment is a member in good standing of a major trade organization’s green restaurant program.
The NRA can’t have it both ways, “recognition” in this context should minimally imply endorsement, sanction, certification. Some assurance that the statements and claims made are verifiable and real.
At best the argument of recognition vs. certification from Moyer and the NRA is naive, at worst disingenuous and detrimental to the very cause it professes to support.
There are trusting people among us, some own restaurants and some patronize them. You might be one of those people. Once trust is violated, trusting people can become a bit less trusting. Greenwash is eventually exposed for what it is. So when the next green program comes along, no matter how worthy, it is seen as suspect. You’ve been burned before. “It’s all just greenwash.” The result is real change, a transition to real sustainability, becomes that much more difficult.
I don’t think the National Restaurant Association is being naive.
In part three tomorrow, we’ll revisit the Styrofoam cup we introduced in part one, for an interesting twist on the green properties of Styrofoam.