ben daugherty, program manager for the green dining alliance photo by virginia harold

What I Do: Ben Daugherty, program manager for the Green Dining Alliance

Ben Daugherty is program manager for the Green Dining Alliance (GDA), a program of Earthday365 that works with the St. Louis region’s restaurants to reduce their environmental impact. With a background in the restaurant and event industries, Daugherty is well suited to lead the GDA’s efforts to help restaurants increase their sustainability across many areas of their operations. Here, Daugherty discusses the many ways the GDA understands sustainability, why Styrofoam is a critical area of focus for the program, and some new projects they have planned for 2022.

“We are working with restaurants primarily as consultants for how to make their businesses more sustainable. We look at about eight different areas and how they can improve or what we can celebrate that they’re already doing.”

“The big thing is we want them to not use any Styrofoam. Our overarching goal is to eliminate Styrofoam from as many restaurants as we can, and we want them to have a recycling waste reduction program in play. We want to see that they’re paying attention to what they’re putting in their landfill receptacles, what they’re putting in recycling receptacles.”

“We also promote that restaurant through marketing, through social media, through events and just any other outreach. We try to elevate their position in the community as businesses that are helping improve that community’s environmental approach to making it a safer community.”

“Styrofoam is the cheapest way to package to-go food. Part of the reason why it’s one of our main components that we make sure restaurants are following is because it doesn’t really ever break down in the landfills. It’s just really, really one of the worst things for the environment when it comes to to-go packaging.”

“But again, it’s the cheapest way to do this. So, sitting down with restaurants and talking to them about the alternatives with all the recyclable products out there – and there are a lot of recyclable products out there that you can use for to-go and even compostable products.”

“We try to work on different strategies, to say, ‘Well you know, you may pay more for this to-go product, but let’s look at some other areas in your restaurant, like energy conservation, water conservation, if we can reduce your cost in those areas to help offset any extra money that you might be putting into something like to-go products.’”

“The recycling industry is incredibly dense and hard to understand, and it’s very complex. There’s always new plastics coming out, and it’s just a lot for any restaurant owner to even try to sit down and figure out. So we try to break that all down into something that’s more digestible for them.”

“Primarily we’re there to kind of help [restaurants] run a tighter ship. We’re really looking to help them run a more efficient business. It’s sustainability, yes, but in the end it’s just about being a smart business.”

“That’s why we have so many different areas that we look at with the program; it’s not just to-go containers, and it’s not just your sourcing. It’s your energy. It’s your water. It’s your social sustainability – how you are working with your staff, your employees? How do you make your restaurant survive and have longevity?”

“One thing that’s new this year is sustainability awards at our festival. One of those is geared toward the Green Dining Alliance; it’s called the Food For Thought Award.”

“We also started a program called the Kind Box program, which is a reusable to-go container program, where we’re partnering with the Product Stewardship Institute. We’re going to be working with our Green Dining Alliance restaurants this year for a pilot launch program.”

“We’ll have about five restaurants that will offer this reusable to-go container. Customers can sign up, get their to-go food and this reusable container, and then they can bring it back to a drop box in the area and drop [it] off. We’ll have an app for it with QR codes. It’s going to be a pretty exciting launch, and it’s going to be coming up hopefully later in spring or summer.”

Disclaimer: Sauce Magazine is a sponsor for Earthday365.

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