The Conserve Solution Center – Providing real solutions or pushing greenwash?
In parts One and Two of our series A Greener Shade of Greenwash, we demonstrate how the National Restaurant Association (NRA), through their Greener Restaurant program and Conserve website, employ a compelling message aimed at restauranteurs interested in the advantages of implementing sustainability best practices in their operations.
From attracting the growing number of eco-minded customers actively seeking out green dining options to appealing to the sincere, sustainability-minded business owner, the NRA offers as a solution the Greener Restaurant program. A program that, as we see in part Two of this series, requires nothing more than payment of the $250 annual membership fee and basic computer skills to produce signed Greener Restaurant certificate and a host of marketing materials, including use of the Greener Restaurant logo. It doesn’t even require an actual restaurant to be recognized by the National Restaurant Association as a Greener Restaurant.
It is a program with no standards, benchmarking, or verification, claiming instead that such burden rests with the consumer. It is, therefore, a program that is meaningless and detrimental to the cause it claims to support. Instead of a solution, the Greener Restaurant program only creates confusion and suspicion.
Now we’ll turn our attention to the upcoming National Restaurant Association Restaurant Hotel-Motel Show in Chicago on May 22-25, and NRA plans to set up a pavilion on the exhibit floor called the Conserve Solution Center. In a press release the NRA says this about the purpose of the exhibit:
“Restauranteurs looking for ways to ramp up environmental efforts and find greener business solutions will find the information, products, services, and contacts they need…”
Care to guess what kind of products and services the NRA sees as “green business solutions?” (Here’s a hint: remember that Styrofoam cup we introduced back in part one?)
In a National Restaurant Association brochure (pdf), potential exhibitors for the Conserve Solution Center are told:
“The Conserve Solutions Center is a newly focused area on the Show floor dedicated specifically to help buyers easily find ‘sustainability related’ products and services to meet operator demand for greener solutions.
Exhibit your products and services to demonstrate how you can help them meet their sustainability objectives.”
Do you have a great green product or service you’d like to show potential customers interested in adopting greater sustainability in their business operations? Great. The Conserve Solutions Center is the place for you.
Are you just interested in taking advantage of the “green angle” to sell more of your products or services to suckers that buy into this “eco” thing? Great. The Conserve Solutions Center is the place for you.
And once again, here is proof:
Our industry-insider source for this story submitted the following four products as “green business solutions” for display at the Conserve Solutions Center:
- Environmental Catering Tray:
Pitch: Take a look at our new sustainable catering tray. Made from a patent pending plastic that is able to fold into a shape that fits easy into garbage cans. It’s no longer necessary to store catering trays next to the side of a waste basket and hope that it makes its way into the landfill. Our catering trays are an inexpensive way to help your catering needs and the planet.
Reality: This product is made from virgin plastic. The pitch suggests that the trays can easily be thrown away, and thus somehow will “help the planet.”
Pitch: Made from Plastic: stackable and extra light, can’t be washed. Can take it with you because of its special top. Can keep water cold for 12 hours so it’s great for cancelling the need for ice or refrigerators.
Reality: A mug made from virgin plastic that can’t be washed. This is green how? Because it theoretically saves the need for a few ice cubes, but hardly “cancels the need for ice or refrigerators.”
- SoGreen Cleaner:
Pitch: Ultra slim container let’s you take it on the go. All plastic packaging and lasts for 30 uses. Special six pack package are recyclable. Made entirely from natural chlorine and butyl cellusolve.
Reality: It’s getting pretty blatant. A product packaged in plastic made entirely from Chlorine and butyl cellusolve. Chlorine is a common chemical, and one that carries with it significant risks when used improperly – especially in a restaurant. In any case, it is hardly a new, green solution for business owners. And what exactly is “natural” chlorine? Then there is butyl cellusolve, our second ingrediant. Another fairly common chemical found in cleaning products, but with a definitively shady record. So much so that California has listed it as a hazardous substance. Studies show that butyl cellusolve can cause testicular damage and birth defects in animals. In humans it is known to irritate mucus membranes and cause liver and kidney damage. Most certainly not a “new, green solution.”
- Hot EarthCup:
Pitch: 100% Recyclable Polystyrene Foam. Recylable throughout the U.S. Insulates Hot Drinks.
Reality: It’s a Styrofoam cup! The kind that have been clogging landfills for decades, as we discuss in part One. True, polystyrene is technically recyclable, but it is most often not, because the process is slow and normally not cost effective. In fact, most companies, including giants like Wal-Mart, are urging suppliers to use less Styrofoam in packaging and other products. There is little conceivable way a cup made from polystyrene foam is a solution for greater sustainability worthy of exhibition at something called a “Conserve Solutions Center”.
The following graphic of an email thread displays how “Troy,” a prospective exhibitor, asked NRA representative Brad Putz to review the submitted products and confirm that they qualify for inclusion in the Conserve Solutions Center. Brad’s response?
“Troy – Your products are a great fit for the Conserve Solutions Center.”
What does it mean for the sustainability-seeking business owner?
Clearly there are no real standards for a product or service to be included in the Conserve Solutions Center pavilion at the upcoming National Restaurant Association Restaurant Hotel-Motel Show in Chicago. That is not to say there aren’t legitimate green service providers and product manufacturers interested in displaying their wares. It does mean that it doesn’t matter to the National Restaurant Association.
As we’ve previously seen with the Greener Restaurant program in parts One and Two of this series, a program promoting sustainability best practices without benchmarks or verification is the very definition of greenwash.
With the Conserve Solutions Center, it is just more of the same greenwash.
Tomorrow’s conclusion discusses the nature of political lobbying efforts from the National Restaurant Association.