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Reduce Carbon Emissions by Eating Out This Earth Day Weekend

ZeroFoodPrint is enlisting one-day-only members to its carbon neutral eating club

The Perennial Patricia Chang

For restaurants like The Perennial, Flour + Water, or State Bird Provisions — all of which are on nonprofit ZeroFoodPrint’s registry of carbon neutral businesses — every day is Earth Day. But on the actual Earth Day (Sunday, April 22), ZeroFoodPrint co-founder and restaurateur Anthony Myint is encouraging other restaurants to go carbon neutral for just 24 hours.

Myint (The Perennial, Mission Chinese Food) created ZeroFoodPrint with Peter Freed (a renewable energy manager at Facebook) and Chris Ying (former editor-in-chief of Lucky Peach) after a study published in Lucky Peach in 2013 revealed that the carbon emissions from dining out were shockingly similar to that of cooking at home. Encouraged by the findings that reducing restaurant emissions weren’t insurmountable, the group founded ZeroFoodPrint to help chefs and restaurants lower their carbon impact, while understanding the challenges the industry faces.

The result is “something between Fair Trade coffee certification, Leed certification, and a voluntary soda tax,” says Myint.

How does it work?

Restaurants and diners who might not consider climate change their problem aren’t really doing the math: Food and related energy expenditures are responsible for about half of climate change, according to some estimates. That’s why Myint and others see addressing climate change as incumbent upon the restaurant industry.

And while some restaurants like the Perennial can source their ingredients from sustainable providers, and even produce it themselves, “not everybody is realistically going to support great producers,” Myint says.

Instead, he suggests, “let’s create a business model where you’re either [supporting sustainable producers], or creating more.” That would mean making donations to ZeroFoodPrint, with that nonprofit supporting producers and making out the money to projects like DrawDown and others that work on carbon sequestration and conservation.

So, instead of having restaurants turn off the lights or stop serving meat on Earth Day, ZeroFoodPrint’s restaurants will donate $1 per customer served on Sunday, April 22 (or Saturday, April 21 for restaurants closed on Sunday). Earth Day participation in ZeroFoodPrint is on the honor system, with the nonprofit performing carbon assessments of restaurants and then donating their $1 per customer to environmental projects and retiring a corresponding amount of carbon on the American Carbon Registry, a carbon offset system Myint calls “the Dow Jones of voluntary carbon trading.” The rest of the money goes towards making other restaurants carbon neutral all the time.

The results?

Last year, more than 100 restaurants joined the Earth Day push, cancelling out the emissions from 20,000 gallons of gasoline. This year, more than that number are already onboard, and Myint would like to save the equivalent of 50,000 gallons of gasoline.

Even as large-scale carbon reduction is under threat by policymakers, Myint senses grassroots energy around the movement. “On the one hand, America exits the Paris Accords, but then these businesses form a coalition to maintain it, so it definitely feels like voluntary civic minded organization work will lead the way.”

It just might have to. Join in the effort by dining at one of the following San Francisco restaurants participating in the earth day challenge (Note: starred restaurants are carbon neutral every day of the year):

AL’s Place, Aster, Atelier Crenn, Bar Agricole, Benu,*Cala, Coi, Commonwealth, Duende, Dyafa, El Molino Central, Fine and Rare, Flour + Water*, Frances, Gibson, Hillside Supper Club, Ichi Sushi, In situ*, Izakaya Rintaro, Kaya, La Foile, Lord Stanley*, Manresa, Metal + Match, Mission Chinese Food*, Monsieur Benjamin*, Namu Gaji*, Octavia, Petit Crenn, Ramen Shop, Saison, Sessions at the Presidio, SHED*, SingleThread, State Bird Provisions, Terra, The Morris, The Perennial*, The Progress, The Restaurant at Meadowood, Trestle, Trou Normand