Students green Chicago restaurants in new environmental economics course

February 2, 2012

The Program for the Global Environment and Environment, Agriculture and Food Group are introducing a new practicum-style course for undergraduates and graduates this winter: Environment, Agriculture, and Food: Economic and Policy Analysis. The course, taught by Sabina Shaikh and assisted by Nancy Himmelfarb, requires students to work in small groups and partner with restaurant owners in order to create a green certification for Chicago restaurants.

Students have begun by reviewing existing building and operating standards for restaurants in Chicago, as well as existing green certifications for industries such as buildings, hotels, and businesses. According to Professor Shaikh, the goal of the course is to “conduct scholarly research and perform rigorous analyses related to the environmental impacts of all restaurant operations while developing professional communication, presentation, and collaborative skills.” Students are acting as advisors to their client, the Chicago Green Restaurant Coalition.

Each week, a representative from a green restaurant in Chicago joins the class to share its experience with becoming more environmentally sustainable and answers questions about their green practices. The second week of the quarter, the owners of Chicago’s Uncommon Ground, recently named the Greenest Restaurant in America, spoke to the class about their restaurant on Devon. Owners Helen and Michael Cameron implemented over 100 environmental practices in order to become a 4 Star Certified Green Restaurant. From the solar thermal system to the certified organic rooftop garden, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said that Uncommon Ground is a “great example of what our city can do and what our country can do, use water and energy more efficiently, grow more sustainable food, while boasting the world’s most sustainable business.”

As part of their research, students are required to interview others in the restaurant industry, providing an opportunity for students to get off campus and gain more experience working with Chicago’s restaurant industry as well as experts in the fields of energy management, food production, water management and waste and recycling services. Students are divided into groups, joining both a methodological and a research group, where they will consider environmental impacts, cost effectiveness, consumer preferences and feasibility of adoption of various restaurant practices. Students will then work together to create their recommendations for a green certification program.

This course is the first of a two-quarter sequence; the spring course will further develop the details of the certification and then evolve into a summer internship for one or two of the students. The interns will assist with the implementation of the developed certification. According to a student in the course, fourth year CJ Martino, “It’s an unparalleled opportunity to engage leaders and practitioners in the green restaurant community.”

**The long list of participating restaurants and sustainability organizations includes Uncommon Ground, Goose Island Brewery Company, Lou Malnati’s, Frontera, XOCO, Topolobampo, Blue Plate Catering, Recycling Services and Green Seal.