Jesse Baker, founder of Ecofficiency, a nonprofit that encourages responsible lifestyle, consumption and choices, says running a restaurant with the environment and community in mind shouldn't be costly or difficult.
But the movement toward a green lifestyle has taken on a life of its own, with organizations that charge thousands of dollars to certify restaurants, buildings or companies, and sometimes their standards aren't flexible enough to fit each business.
To simplify, Baker developed the Positive Plate, a comprehensive, local sustainable restaurant certification program that goes beyond just where the food is coming from.
The program is flexible enough to fit each restaurant's volume and needs, he said.
"We look at everything in restaurants, from their food to furniture," Baker said. "We look at how to make their energy and water use much more efficient, how to reduce waste and increase recycling, and how they can positively bring in their employees into the mix, treating them well, training them well and finding ways to interact with their community."
The Costa Mesa-based Positive Plate encompasses five categories that each restaurant must comply with to be certified: product sourcing, energy and water efficiency, waste reduction and recycling, employee development, and community engagement.
The process is simple, Baker said.
Consultants visit the restaurant and look at its style, the menu it serves, the energy it uses and whether it saves money and power. The fee is $100 a month.
Duke's in Huntington Beach is one of eight restaurants signed up for the Positive Plate certification.
The restaurant's executive chef and partner, Matthew Perez, said saving energy is simple. For example, the restaurant was able to save 80,000 gallons of water a year by asking customers if they would like water instead of just serving it at each table.
The restaurant also uses local seafood, which reduces shipment costs, and cardboard boxes, which are recyclable.
"It doesn't need to be more expensive or cost more to be responsible," said Perez, who is also the Positive Plate's development partner. "In some cases, even when it does cost a little bit more, those are good things, and if you share that in your marketing material, people appreciate it and come to your restaurant because they know you're being responsible in your day-to-day business practice."
Other restaurants that have signed up for a Positive Plate certification include Avanti Café and Taco Asylum in Costa Mesa, Xanh Bistro in Fountain Valley, Haven Gastropub in Orange, and Sol Cocina, Sage and Haute Cakes in Newport Beach.
Aside from ensuring that the food is grown locally and that water and energy are used at an efficient level, the Positive Plate also encourages community involvement.
Duke's is a great example of helping the community, Baker said.
The restaurant has a menu item that diverts some of its proceeds to the Second Harvest Food Bank in Irvine, Perez said.
"Community involvement is a big part of respecting your immediate natural surroundings," he said. "I really wanted to help the people who don't know where their next meal is coming from."
Last year, the restaurant raised $10,000 for the food bank, and it's on track to raise the same amount this year, he said.
The Positive Plate is planning its official launch party Nov. 11. A Taste of Fall will be held at the Second Harvest in the OC Great Park.
Participating restaurants will be on hand to serve small plates of their food and drinks. There will also be music, art and a silent auction.
Tickets are $60 and include the food and drinks. To buy a ticket, go to http://www.thepositiveplate.org/events.
Proceeds will go to the Second Harvest and other local organizations, including Ecofficiency, Baker said.
"You're going to have a great time and eat really great food, and it's going to help make the world a better place," he said. "These restaurants deserve to be supported because they're making a difference."