Expert Interview – Helping Restaurants Become Sustainable


This month I had the opportunity to interview Michael Oshman, Founder and CEO of the Green Restaurant Association. Michael is passionate about creating a more sustainable business environment, especially in the restaurant industry.

LC: When did you get started in the restaurant business?

MO: I founded the Green Restaurant Association in 1990 when I was 19 years old. So I’ve been doing this for 27 years. We were one of the first green business organizations and helped start the green business movement. Thankfully today, sustainable business practices are much more mainstream.

LC: Tell me about the Green Restaurant Association and the inspiration for starting the organization.

MO: If the restaurant industry was a country it would be in the top 15 countries as far as GDP. It is a trillion dollar industry. We got started to help restaurants become more environmentally sustainable which has a significant impact. We wanted to make this process of change easy and profitable for restaurants. We break down the industry into seven environmental components of energy, water, waste, disposables, chemicals, food, and building. We have hundreds of environmental standards ranging from napkins to paper towels, cleaning chemicals to equipment, etc. Restaurants earn points for each of the steps where they meet our standards. Depending on the number of points earned, they can become level 1 star, 2 star, 3 star, or 4 star Certified Green Restaurant®.

LC: How does the process work and what guidance do you provide the restaurateurs?

MO: Our organization provides environmental consulting. We walk the restaurant through the process starting with an environmental assessment to find a baseline of how the restaurant is operating in relationship to our environmental standards. We discover where there is room for improvement and then set up a strategy of steps. We don’t just give them the prescription, we help them do it. We also work with their distributors, vendors, waste haulers and property managers to make it happen. Once the restaurant has become certified we assist with public relations and marketing. We are really proud of the support we provide and that we have become the trusted resource for the industry.

LC: You mentioned working with distributors. Please share how that program works.

MO: Our Green Restaurant Distributor™ Program, which Imperial Dade is part of, is a great way for distributors to have an external source of validation that their products meet our standards. We take the hundreds or thousands of products that a distributor carries and match them up with our standards. Then we publicize those distributors on our website. If you go to  you will see all of the products from Imperial Dade that meet the GRA’s environmental standards. The website provides a transparent source of information to the restaurateur.

LC: What is the biggest trend or change you have seen with regards to green restaurants?

MO: More restaurants are realizing the importance of sustainability and calling upon our organization for assistance. We now have universities, corporations, transportation hubs, etc. that are all doing this. Some want to create cleaner air, cleaner water, sustainable food sources and some just realize that consumers prefer dining at Certified Green Restaurants®.  The movement continues to gain steam!

LC: What are some simple things a restaurant can do to get started in becoming more sustainable?

MO: A couple of examples include getting the most efficient spray valve. If they are using a 1.4 gal/min valve they can go down to one that is a gallon or less. Switching out old CFL or incandescent lighting to LED bulbs is an easy option.  Go to to see a bunch of products that we have already vetted. Using our website is more efficient than general internet searches. Sometimes a restaurateur may come across a product online that interests them. The marketing pitch makes it sound great, but then it ends up not meeting expectations which is disappointing. That is called greenwashing.  We have 27 years of experience greening restaurants. My advice is put us to work for you!

Contact the Green Restaurant Association at or 617-737-4422 for more information about becoming a Certified Green Restaurant® or Green Restaurant Distributor™.







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