When I think of food courts, the notion typically conjures bad fast food, abominable Styrofoam packaging, and those bright red-orange plastic trays (always good to reuse for sledding, right?). Never do I place “green” and “environmentally friendly” in that same stream of consciousness. But the food court at New York City’s American Museum of Natural History has proven that maybe I should, recently earning a 3-Star Certified Green Restaurant designation from the Green Restaurant Association (GRA).
The Museum’s food court is, so far, the only “cultural institution” to earn three stars out of four, though Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Garden in Pittsburgh received two stars, and the New England Aquarium and the Missouri Botanical Garden have Charter status. (This means they have worked with the GRA for the past two decades and follow environmentally friendly food-serving practices, but haven’t yet switched to the star system, which GRA began in December 2008).
It’s not so simple to earn three stars. Restaurants need 175 points, at least 10 each in the categories of water efficiency, waste reduction and recycling, sustainable food, energy, disposables, and chemical and pollution reduction. Have all composting toilets? That earns you 4.25 points. Donate weekly to a food bank or other material exchange? That’s another 5. The remaining 115 points can come from any of those six groups listed above, or from using sustainable furnishings and building materials, for everything from chairs (4 points possible) to ceiling panels and carpets (each 3 possible points).
Getting this designation doesn’t mean a restaurant can rest on its eco-laurels. Every year following, the food server must improve by anywhere from five to 10 points.
The AMNH food court, one of only a dozen or so 3-Star Certified Green Restaurants, made the grade by putting in place a full-scale recycling program, and using local and organic foods and non-toxic cleaners, among other environmental acts. To find a green eatery near you, search on GRA’s Dine Green site.