Environmentalist and philanthropist Laura Turner Seydel is helping to turn Atlanta into a more sustainable city. The daughter of Ted Turner and former chair of the Zero Waste Zones initiative recently talked about the program’s importance and how restaurants and other businesses can implement sustainable best practices. The National Restaurant Association acquired the Zero Waste Zones initiative in 2012.
How is Atlanta tackling environmental issues?
It starts with a strong commitment to sustainability from our leaders. We certainly have that in Mayor Kasim Reed. Very shortly after he assumed office in 2010, he announced a series of ambitious and exciting sustainability goals for our city. His leadership has helped bring together more than 300 stakeholders from public and private entities to work on projects like the Atlanta Better Buildings Challenge, the creation of Eco Districts, residential recycling and the Zero Waste Zones program.
What’s your hope for the Zero Waste Zones program?
The Zero Waste Zones program was originally developed in Atlanta. We lost a conference to a city perceived to be “greener.” So we rallied to make our city even greener and came up with Zero Waste Zones. I chaired the original zero- waste committee. It’s exciting to think that only a few years ago this was a local effort to try to get restaurateurs to divert more waste from landfills. Now, the National Restaurant Association, has adopted the program and expanded the definition of “waste” to include energy and water.
Why should restaurateurs care about sustainability?
Restaurants are among the most energy-intensive commercial buildings in the United States. They also contribute to the 40 percent of the U.S. food supply that ends up in landfills each year. But the silver lining is that by implementing energy and water conservation strategies and recycling and composting initiatives, restaurants can improve their bottom line. At the same time, consumer demand for sustainable restaurants is on the rise. In fact, National Restaurant Association research has found that more consumers want to dine at restaurants offering food grown or raised in environmentally friendly ways, so being green can give a competitive edge.
How would you advise restaurateurs to begin their sustainable journeys?
I would advise them to visit the National Restaurant Association’s Conserve initiative at http://Restaurant.org/Conserve. Restaurants can access a host of free resources, including 95 best practices and 64 educational videos on how to “green” their operations.
Pictured, top right: Laura Turner Seydel