Big Sky Cafe, Green Dining Alliance and the impact of sustainable restaurants

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The Green Dining Alliance (GDA) works behind the scenes of the St. Louis restaurant community to improve environmental working conditions and provide support for its member establishments. 

The alliance uses a comprehensive audit system to determine if a restaurant can be GDA-certified in the categories of recycling and waste reduction, sourcing and procurement, water conservation, energy conservation and efficiency, chemical use, awareness and education, and innovation. 

“There are core concepts a GDA member has to abide by to be in the program. If they use any Styrofoam or #6 plastics, they have to have some kind of recycling program. They have to track, monitor, come up with programs to reduce their waste footprint,” said Ben Daugherty, manager of Green Dining Alliance. “From there, we dive deeper into areas for our audit process,” 

The view of Big Sky Cafe from Garden Ave. Inside, Big Sky Cafe has a view of their own garden, as well. Photo courtesy of Big Sky Cafe.

It may seem as though the GDA is a strict system. While true in some regard, Dominic Weiss, the owner of GDA-approved Big Sky Cafe in Old Orchard in Webster Groves, offers a different point of view.

“Really, it wasn’t difficult at all,” Weiss said. “We had been marching to the beat of their drum for the most part. It’s not just an interview and, ‘Do you cut the mustard?’ sort of exchange. They’re not only here to see that you qualify, but also offer suggestions.”

An important detail to note is that Big Sky Cafe was founded on sustainability. Its experience may not reflect other restaurants that would require more effort to adapt to GDA guidelines, according to Weiss.

“By the time they (the GDA) came along, we had been doing the composting with our materials,” he said. “We had been making our selections for our product for the tables through local farms and things like that, which are, much more inherently, environmentally conscious.”

Daugherty explains certification process for GDA membership has changed over the years due to multiple factors.

“It has changed in terms of energy conservation practices, water conservation practices – those  are always evolving with technology,” Daugherty said. “As new developments come out, we’re really trying to be in touch with (utility) companies like Ameren and Spire to see what they’re doing. Sourcing and procurement is always changing, as well. When we are facing issues like inflation and supply-chain issues, you have to look at the whole economic climate and certain parts of the audit might have more weight.” 

Big Sky Café grows their own herbs and vegetables on site. Photo courtesy of Big Sky Café.

Daugherty adds the ultimate goal of certifying a restaurant is to create a positive impact on communities. 

“What we find in our Green Dining districts, which are areas where we have at least 25% of businesses who are GDA-certified, you can see decreased litter in the creeks,” he said. “The landfill in those areas and waste are reduced. I think it also just creates a nicer experience for the diners.” 

GDA is a sustainability program run primarily throughout the St. Louis area by the nonprofit organization, earthday365. Launched in 2012, the program now includes more than 60 local restaurants. 

Diners can find out if their favorite restaurant is a GDA member by visiting the Green Dining Alliance website.

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Jack Himstedt
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