Eco-Friendly / Tips & Tricks

Eco-friendly restaurants: What you can do about water

ed's Montana Grill co-founder and CEO George McKerrow, left; co-founder Ted Turner, right

ed’s Montana Grill co-founder and CEO George McKerrow, left; co-founder Ted Turner, right

Built from the ground up with a strong commitment to sustainable operational practices, Ted’s Montana Grill has come up with a way to address regional water scarcity issues in some of the Western states where it does business. The chain has announced that it will restore five million gallons of water to the Colorado River Basin over the next two years to offset impact of the water footprint of three of its Colorado restaurants.

The 44-unit casual dining chain will do so by purchasing Water Restoration Certificates (WRCs) from the Bonneville Environmental Foundation (BEF). In turn, the Foundation will use those funds to purchase water from water rights holders, releasing it into Colorado River tributaries during times of low water flow. The program addresses the needs of fish and wildlife during times of drought and helps small towns whose economies rely on water recreation activities.

“This investment in water restoration certificates expands our sustainability efforts beyond simple water conservation,” says chain cofounder/c.e.o. George McKerrow. “It provides a mechanism for balancing our water footprint while also contributing to environmental restoration efforts in our own backyard.”

In 2003, Restaurant Hospitality honored McKerrow and Ted’s Montana Grill cofounder Ted Turner by presenting them with the Richard Melman Concepts of Tomorrow Award. Their strong commitment to making their restaurants eco-friendly was part of the reason they were chosen.

Today, McKerrow and Turner still walk the talk on environmental issues as they pertain to restaurants. “Ted’s has demonstrated a commitment to the mantra reduce, reuse, recycle,” a company spokesman notes. “ Energy-efficient and low-flow fixtures are installed in all 44 restaurant locations across 16 states. The reuse of cooking oil helps reduce air pollution, carbon emissions, and reliance on imported petroleum. Additionally, the company recycles more than 370 tons of plastic, glass, and aluminum each year.”

For this initiative, Ted’s is focusing on one river in Colorado.

“Through the purchase of WRCs, Ted’s Montana Grill will restore 2.5 million gallons of water to critically dewatered Colorado Basin tributaries for two consecutive years,” the company says. “This commitment effectively balances the annual water footprint of three Colorado restaurants for two years—Lakewood, Westminster and Boulder. The company’s first-year commitment helped restore 2.5 million gallons to Colorado’s Yampa River, directly supporting the local recreation-based economy and the needs of fish and wildlife during severe drought.”

Ted’s Montana Grill is the first restaurant organization to offset part of its water impact by investing in BEF’s Water Restoration Certificates.

The first question that occurs to us is this one: When there’s a drought, who has five million gallons of water to sell to BEF and Ted’s Montana Grill? This note from the BEF website tells how its system works:

“Surprisingly, WRCs are derived from rivers and streams where there’s very little water. To understand how this happens, you need to understand a little about water law. Currently, water laws in the western United States give water rights to property owners, allowing them to take a certain amount of water from rivers and streams each year for beneficial economic use. The downside of these laws is that in many cases rights to withdraw water exceed the total amount of water available in the stream, particularly in late summer or during periods of drought. In addition, in many states laws mandate that water rights holders must use all their allotted water or they risk forfeiting their water rights forever.

“This ‘use it or lose it’ policy in some cases encourages inefficient water use when landowners are forced to use all of their allotted water regardless of whether there may be more efficient or beneficial means to put that water to use. And with the use of water in many areas exceeding the actual amount of water in the river, many streams go completely dry or have so little water that they can’t support fish, wildlife and recreation.

“WRCs are a voluntary, market-based program that provides water rights holders an economic incentive to devise new water management solutions that restore water to critically dewatered ecosystems. Through the sale of WRCs, BEF funds innovative restoration projects that allow landowners to effectively change the way they use their water rights in order to restore vital water to dewatered rivers and streams.”

If you want your restaurant to truly go green at a high level, the BEF’s water program might be worth a look. That goes double if your restaurant is located in Southern California, Arizona, Nevada or other thirsty parts of the American west.