Inspiring Climate-Conscious Food Service with Madison Square Park Conservancy
Madison Square Park Conservancy (MSPC), a nonprofit responsible for caring for the 6.2-acre green space at the heart of New York City that shares its name, is dedicated to nurturing its park’s ecosystems while simultaneously reducing carbon emissions and providing community leadership concerning the reduction of waste and consumption.
Located in Manhattan’s Flatiron and NoMad districts, the park welcomes nearly 60,000 visitors a day.
Beloved for its rare Hamamelis collection (witch hazel trees), MSPC is dedicated to expanding their inclusion of a variety of plant species to not only provide a green oasis for visitors, but also to educate the public about the positive impacts of specific collections within the park and the greater community. The park also hosts various climate art programs and exhibitions, many of which are created with sustainable materials and focus on climate-friendly actions. The outreach of MSPC goes above and beyond to ensure that their conservation efforts do not end simply at the park boundaries, but extend into the community as well.
Green Dining Destinations
Madison Square Park Conservancy has been partnering since 2020 with surrounding NYC restaurants to make its neighborhood a designated “Green Dining Destination.” A Green Dining Destination is characterized by a total of 20 local restaurants that collectively sign-up and meet specified requirements set forth by the Green Restaurant Association (GRA) to become “Green Certified.” As stated on the GRA website, “Certification requires that restaurants take concrete steps to reduce their environmental impacts, and includes actions like eliminating single-use items, composting food waste, and reducing energy usage.”
Through the Flatiron NoMad Partnership, MSPC is able to connect with local restaurants. Emily Dickinson, Senior Sustainability Manager at Madison Square Park Conservancy, shared the process of the outreach campaign to the local community: “We start by sharing a marketing packet that includes the benefits restaurants can receive from participating. We invite restaurant owners or managers to meet with us one-on-one to learn more to stress the impact that joining could have on the community, and have held information sessions.” Emily explains that the restaurateurs then meet with the GRA to review certification standards and begin the process of certification.
But what exactly are the benefits reaped from the certification for the restaurant itself? To name a few: decreased carbon footprint, decreased waste, water and energy usage, reduction in associated costs, inclusion in community events and materials to showcase their efforts, and an increased environmentally-conscious customer base. The relationship between MSPC and the restaurants continue beyond the certification process as both the MSPC and Flatiron NoMad host programs and events to serve their community. Emily notes that all restaurants are welcome into the program: “Any restaurant from a vegan taco truck to a steakhouse can qualify to become certified.”
Becoming Green Certified
Becoming Green Certified comes with specific certification standards set forth by the GRA separated into categories of energy, water, waste, reusables & disposables, chemicals & pollution, food, building & furnishing, and education & transparency. . There are 4 certification levels, defined by a one- to four-star rating system based on the accumulation of points for specific actions taken. The chart of this breakdown can be seen below. It is the intention of the GRA standards to serve as a transparent measure for each restaurant’s personal accomplishments while also measuring the additional steps they can take to better their sustainable practices. It is also possible for a candidate to receive one or more celebratory badges including near-zero waste, clean chemicals, vegan, vegetarian, sustainable seafood, or SustainaBuildTM.
Digging Deeper Into The Standards
The Energy Standard is broken down into categories of Heating/Cooling/Ventilation, Water Heating, Lighting, Kitchen Equipment-Cooking, Kitchen Equipment-Refrigeration, Annual Maintenance, Miscellaneous, On-Site Electricity Production, and Renewable Energy Credits. The points earned in this standard range from 1 (for attributes like storm windows, ceiling fans, and infrared charbroilers) all the way to 380 (for on-site renewable electricity generation/solar, wind).
The Water Standard is broken down into categories of Recycling, Waste Reduction, Food Waste Diversion, Food Waste Reduction, and Education & Training. The points earned in this standard range from 1 (for attributes like high efficiency urinals, dual flush toilets, and rain gardens) to 17.5 (for waterless woks).
The Waste Standard is broken down into categories of Landscaping, Kitchen, Restrooms, and Other. The points earned in this standard range from 0.5 (for attributes like double-sided printers, furniture donation, and bulk packaging) to 20 (for food waste reused as animal food).
The Reusables & Disposables Standard is broken down into categories of Limiting Disposable Waste, Reusables, Paper Disposables and Reusable Alternatives, Additional Disposables and Reusable Alternatives, and Compostable Disposables In A Closed Loop Waste Stream. The points earned in this standard range from 0.25 (for attributes like refilled or recycled ink cartridges, disposables made with 100% total recycled content, and disposables that meet a bleaching requirement earn the GreenPoints™ of the highest eligible tier) to 100 (for Fast Casual/Fast Food 100% Reusables for FOH Items).
The Chemicals & Pollution Standard is broken down into categories of Site Selection, Stormwater Management, Light Pollution, Transportation & Petroleum Reduction, Chemical Reduction, Pest Management, and Chemicals. The points earned in this standard range from 0.5 (for attributes like buildings located ¼ mile from the bus line, having on-site showers, and having a scooter station located ¼ mile away) to 25 (for brownfield redevelopment).
The Food Standard is broken down into categories of Vegan and Vegetarian Menu Options, Local Food, Sustainable Seafood, and Sustainable Food & Beverage. The points earned in this standard range from 1 (for attributes like greens/herbs grown on-site, local food sourced within 300 miles, and USDA certified organic foods) to 100 (for percent of entrees and food items that are vegan).
The Building & Furnishing Standard is broken down into categories of Furnishings, Fabrics and Merchandise, Coatings & Adhesives, Interior Building Materials, and Construction Items. The points earned in this standard range from 1 (for an attribute like up to 50% recycled paints and coating) to 8 (for reused or salvaged furniture, staff apparel, and merchandise).
The Education & Transparency Standard is broken down into categories of Education and Transparency. The points earned in this standard range from 0.5 (for an attribute like posting on social media about a certification or recertification) to 5 (for 90% of staff members being Green Restaurant Accredited Employees).
Who Has Become Green Certified With MSPC?
As of today, MSPC helped nine restaurants achieve certification: Scarpetta, Barcade, Honeybrains, Blackbarn, Rezdora Osteria Emiliana, Hawksmoor, American Cut, Bombay Sandwich Co, and Shake Shack with Tarallucci e Vino being listed as on their way to certification.
Takeaway and Next Steps
Michael Oshman, the CEO and founder of the Green Restaurant Association, stated, “‘It is important that we address all of these categories to make this industry environmentally sustainable,’ Oshman said. ‘The main thing that is missing is a strong sense of urgency of how important it is to address these issues now. The exciting news is that we don’t need to wait for some future technology. We are helping restaurants now.’”
To work with restaurants and vendors to decrease waste and emissions it is important to first reach out to the restaurants and other food vendors in your vicinity. Together, you can then set goals to work on. It is noted that the implementation of sustainability practices into a restaurant’s daily routine is essential to getting a head start to any goal. Reducing single-use waste, composting, and buying local are a few ideas of how to get started on the right foot!
If you are a Climate Toolkit institution that is interested in working with vendors to decrease emissions and waste, please contact Emily Dickinson at firstname.lastname@example.org. Additional information can be found here and in Flatiron NoMad’s Full Marketing Summary Plan.