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Green Building News

California Eateries May Soon Add ‘Carbon Free’ to the Menu

The state announces a plan to certify restaurants that offset their carbon emissions

California officials have announced the creation of a program to certify restaurants that offset carbon emissions from their operations. The program will help pay for carbon-reducing practices on the state's farms and ranches. [Photo credit: Strewn / CC BY-NC-ND / Flickr]

In California, it may soon be possible to add “zero carbon” to your list of preferences when dining out.

The Los Angeles Times reports that restaurants offsetting their climate impact by underwriting carbon-reducing agricultural practices will be added to a state directory that diners can browse before making a reservation.

Restaurants should be able to make the list in one of two ways. Either they go through a verification process that finds them to be carbon-free, or they add a 1% surcharge to their prices to help farmers and ranchers adopt more environmentally friendly practices.

Some two dozen restaurants have pledged to participate in the collaborative effort of the California Air Resources Board, the state Department of Food and Agriculture, and the Perennial Farming Initiative, a nonprofit cofounded by chef Anthony Myint in San Francisco.

Farmers can produce better crops and healthier soil by altering tilling methods, planting cover crops, and composting. These steps also help sequester carbon dioxide in the earth, The Times said.

Myint told the newspaper that there are plenty of farmers who would like to adopt those practices but don’t have the upfront money to get started. This new program will pay them $10 per ton for carbon they remove from the atmosphere.

The Perennial Farming Initiative has already devised a number of projects under the Restore California banner, including Zero Foodprint, which encourages climate-friendly farming practices. The Initiative also helps restaurants measure their carbon footprints and identifies ways they can reduce their climate impact.

Many of the details of the program, which was announced last week, have yet to be worked out, including funding, administration, and a timeline for putting the plan in place. Air Resources Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols told the newspaper, “It’s the beginning of the process more than it is a fully cooked project.”

She said, however, that changing agricultural practices can be one of the most single most effective ways of lowering greenhouse gas emissions.

Meal ingredients are responsible for much of the total carbon emissions from restaurants. Although Myint wonders whether it will be difficult to get diners to pay extra for a meal that comes from climate-friendly farming and ranching operations, his own experience suggests people may be ready for the idea.

He added a 3% carbon offset charge to the bills at a restaurant he owns last year and said no one has objected.


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