Introduction to Certified Green Restaurants

There are a number of requirements for restaurants to achieve Green Restaurant Certification status. (Photo: KorradolYamsatthm/Shutterstock)

While the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED rating system may be the most well-known green building certification system, it certainly isn’t the only one. I recently discussed the Founding Farmers restaurant in Washington, D.C. The restaurant received both LEED Gold certification as well as the Certified Green Restaurant designation.

The Green Restaurant Association (GRA) certifies three different types of buildings: existing restaurants, new builds and events. Restaurants are certified using scores from seven different environmental categories:

  • Water Efficiency
  • Waste Reduction and Recycling
  • Sustainable Furnishings and Building Materials
  • Sustainable Food
  • Energy
  • Disposables
  • Chemical and Pollution Reduction

In order to qualify as a Certified Green Restaurant, the project must receive a minimum of 100 points, be free of Styrofoam products, hold an educational program on an annual basis, score a minimum number of points in each category, and have a recycling program. Projects that score at least 100 points will be recognized as a Two-Star Certified Green Restaurant. Three-Star recognition is given to restaurants earning at least 175 points and Four-Star certification is reserved for projects that earn at least 470 points.

Water Efficiency

Points in the water efficiency category are awarded for low water landscaping, low-flow plumbing in the kitchen, water-efficient fixtures in the restrooms, EnergyStar laundry facilities, on-site water treatment and more.


The majority of available points in the waste category come from waste diversion techniques. Pre-consumer composting is good for 17.5 points while post-consumer composting is good for another 7.5 points. Converting grease to biodiesel can earn 2.5 points for a restaurant while diverting cardboard and paper waste is good for another eight points.

Sustainable Furnishings & Building Materials

Chairs, tables, booths, window treatments flooring, countertops, cabinetry, and all of the other materials used inside a restaurant are assessed when points are awarded in the sustainable furnishings and building materials categories. Products using salvaged, recycled or rapidly renewable materials can qualify for three points. FSC Certified or reused wood is also good for three points per product.

Sustainable Food

Ideally, green restaurants should serve eco-friendly food. Points are awarded for certified organic nonmeat items, free-range meats, seafood from the Monterey Bay Seafood Guide’s “green list”, vegan and vegetarian products, and locally sourced food items.


A restaurant' heating, cooling, ventilation, water heating, lighting, appliances and office equipment can earn points in the energy category. Additionally, using on-site renewable energy or purchasing renewable energy credits will earn a restaurant additional points.

Recycled and Biobased Disposables

Restaurants that use reusable napkins and hand towels can instantly earn 13 points towards Green Restaurant Certification. In addition, a restaurant’s food service disposables and tissue and office paper will be scored.

Chemical & Pollution Reduction

Similar to the LEED rating systems, a restaurant’s location near mass transit, stormwater management systems, brownfield redevelopment, and indoor air quality improvements are measured. Points are awarded in these subcategories to determine a restaurant’s score in the chemical and pollution reduction category.