While we are aware of many individual companies that undermine the meaning and true purpose of the term ‘environmentally friendly,’ Greenpeace recently received a tip that many businesses within one industry may all have the ability to participate in an extensive greenwashing scheme.
An anonymous source inside in the restaurant industry recently led us to a new program sponsored by the National Restaurant Association called ‘Greener Restaurants,’ where any restaurant across the county, who claims to practice environmentally friendly initiatives can become a member.
The subscription fee is $250, and the restaurants receive a door decal and certificate that can be displayed in the restaurant, proudly announcing their eco-efforts. Participants also get their name in the “Green Dining Finder,” an online service for consumers looking to dine at sustainable restaurants.
But as our insider has shown us, it takes no more than a couple clicks through a “self-evaluation” checklist, covering topics such as energy efficiency, water conservation, and waste reduction, and a restaurant can easily receive a ‘green’ certification from the National Restaurant Association.
“They have made a mistake in putting out a deceptive, dishonest program that is going to harm businesses,” the anonymous source said. “Their reputations will be harmed because consumers will find out that to put that certificate on your window means nothing.”
Our source created a membership to the program and found that it took less than five minutes before he was downloading certificates showing the restaurant participated in sustainable practices. One green certification was received in less than 30 seconds when they checked a box claiming the restaurant had a “green marketing plan.”
“I say I have a green marketing plan with one click and immediately get a certificate,” said our source. “That makes a business green? I don’t think so.”
See the following youtube videos our source made to show how easy it is to earn the green certification.
In this first video, our source shows it took approximately 30 seconds to earn a certification after clicking that the restaurant had a green marketing plan.
This video shows that by clicking 5 more things, claiming that the restaurant had done an assessment on energy and water, another certificate was earned in 90 seconds.
Without any kind of screening or inspection to make sure that the restaurant was really following sustainable practices or any environmental changes being implemented at all, a restaurant with a printer and $250, could lead customers to believe they are an environmentally friendly establishment.
And the creators of “Greener Restaurants” are well aware of the value of the green label. Forty-four percent of adults say they are more likely to make a restaurant choice based on its environmental practices, boldly states the program’s website. It’s a fact that would easily sway any restaurant owner into forking out the subscription fee for more customers in return.
However, the increase in consumer desire for more sustainable products and practices is only truly beneficial, if what is actually being offered is true to what is being marketed. While it’s possible that some restaurant owners would use this site responsibly, there simply isn’t any way to verify this. No one is making sure that the people behind the clicks of the computer mouse do really use energy efficient appliances or practice responsible waste reduction techniques in their restaurant.
The fact further exacerbating the greenwashing action of this website can be found in the policies and make-up of the National Restaurant Association itself. It’s a powerful group comprised of nearly 945,000 restaurant and food service outlets across the country. The website calls the group “the cornerstone of the economy, career opportunities and community involvement,” in the restaurant industry. And while the association certainly holds a lot of weight, its reputation as an organization itself is not one that deserves a ‘green’ certification.
The only public policy issue brief under the “Sustainability and Social Responsibility” section of the National Restaurant Association’s website, is one for climate change. The brief states that the group is against cap and trade legislation because it goes “too far, too fast, and will hurt many small businesses.” The association said it would impact the industry by significantly increasing utility bills. Additionally, the organization states that climate change policies would force agricultural suppliers to change their production, thus also having an impact on suppliers of the National Restaurant Association.
“The National Restaurant Association will be working closely with Senate staff to make sure the industry’s concerns are known and to prevent the passage of any bill that could have such a serious impact on our industry,” states the brief.
While Greenpeace also opposes current cap and trade legislation, it does so for completely opposite reasons, stating that the legislation is too weak and doesn't set strong enough emission reduction targets or go far enough in supporting renewable energy. Instead the legislation subsidizes a new generation of dirty fossil fuel investments, which Greenpeace cannot support.
The fact that the National Restaurant Association opposes this legislation for going too far, makes their “Greener Restaurant” initiative seem even less valid and less in accordance with true purposes of being environmentally friendly.
See here for more information on the background and political history of the association and why their certification program cannot be trusted.
According to a 2009 Cone Consumer Environmental Survey, 63 percent of Americans trust companies to tell them the truth when it comes to environmental messaging and marketing. The difference between this scheme and others currently occurring is that the possibility for many restaurants to participate in this program at the same time. This means that there is great probability that many consumers could be affected. When taking into consideration the number of people that dine at restaurants throughout the country and the number of restaurants that could participate in the program, the potential for greenwashing on a widespread level is great.
“This undermines the whole concept of businesses out there who are legitimately trying to do something green,” said the source. “That is the biggest casualty of this.”
Used to describe the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.