By Kate Shifman
NEW YORK — Ice-cold mint lemonade, wild arugula with heirloom tomatoes, chilled sweet corn soup … . Do these read like a food cart menu? Did I mention it’s a biodynamic, seasonal, locally sourced menu served from a solar-powered cart?
Upper East Side’s favorite organic restaurant, Rouge Tomate, jumped on the food cart bandwagon with a solar-powered cart parked on 64th Street and Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. This is the newest offering in the growing sector of “green” restaurants—places that make you feel good all around, from the food they serve to the sustainable lifestyle they stand for.
When consumers buy something, they make a conscious vote with their hard-earned cash, whether it’s for a cheaper product, a healthier one, or a brand they believe in. For years now, eco-conscious consumers are able to choose sustainably harvested produce, ethically sourced fabrics, and fuel-efficient vehicles. They even can purchase green energy through their utilities. But when it came to going out, restaurant choices have been pretty much limited to the food. Logical, isn’t it? For a growing number of people concerned with the effects of carbon-hungry economies, there is now a way to support the proliferation of clean energy simply by choosing to eat at a place that uses it.
A myriad of restaurants, food carts, and cafes use solar energy to power their operations and feature other innovations. For instance, Resto Muvbox in Montreal is a “lobster box” that serves up delicious lobster rolls from their solar-powered shipping container cart. And for funky city folk, the mother of all sustainable cafes is Habana Outpost in Fort Green, Brooklyn.
Courtesy of Habana Outpost Cafe
The quirky owner, deeply rooted in Brooklyn culture, has built a place that fits everything, from local graffiti legends to composting. The outdoor section boasts a smoothie-making bicycle, a “NY Water Tower” rainwater collection system, and a restored postal truck selling some of the best elote corn this side of the Gulf. Glistening in the sun are solar panels that not only generate electricity for the cafe’s operation but sell it back to utility Con Edison to power nearby buildings.
Even large chains have recognized the undeniable financial and environmental benefits of solar and embraced this clean energy source, thus promoting its greater adoption in the community.
How great would it feel to pick up a tasty all-natural burrito from around the corner, knowing that this seemingly mundane action is a step forward to a more sustainable clean energy society? Since 2009, Chipotle Mexican Grill has installed solar panels on 75 of its restaurants, producing 500 milliwatts (mW) of solar energy in total, eliminating more than 41 million pounds of CO2 emissions. This makes Chipotle the largest producer of renewable energy in the restaurant industry.
Chipotle’s commitment to sustainability goes beyond energy, spanning from food to use of recycled materials, composting, and other innovative measures. The Gurnee, Illinois, location has achieved the coveted LEED Platinum certification. It boasts an on-site wind turbine and an underground cistern to harvest rainwater for irrigation. Its Long Island, New York, restaurant also is LEED certified as a sustainable building.
Jennifer Fleck of the Green Restaurant Association has compiled a list of solar-powered eateries for Sierra Club Green Home readers:
Uncommon Ground, Chicago: Uncommon Ground’s solar thermal system offsets 10 percent of the restaurant’s energy use.
Kona Brewing Company, Kailua-Kona, HI: Kona’s solar PV system offsets 21 percent of its energy production.
Omega FoodWorks, Rhinebeck, NY: Omega’s solar-powered onsite water treatment system offsets 1.2 percent of its energy.
Simone’s, Chicago: Simone’s solar panels offset 5 percent of its energy use.
Jumpin’ Jay’s Fish Café, Portsmouth, NH: Coupled with the existing hot water system, Bingham expects the new solar array to generate upwards of a 56 percent annual savings for Jumpin’ Jay’s.
Barrington Brewery & Restaurant, Great Barrington, MA: This place offers up beer brewed in solar-heated water.
To find a solar-powered eatery in your neck of the woods, go to www.dinegreen.com.
Kate Shifman is a New Yorker, sustainability professional, photographer, and publisher of Solar In The City, a solar and energy efficiency guide for the city dweller.
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