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OCEAN FRIENDLY RESTAURANTS

WRITTEN BY REBECCA PANG

CAN DOING THE RIGHT THING FOR THE ENVIRONMENT BE GOOD FOR BUSINESSES?

FOR THE SURFRIDER FOUNDATION, the answer is “yes.” Case in point: Ocean Friendly Restaurants.

HOW DID IT START?

Following a small program launch by the San Diego Chapter, Surfrider’s Hawai‘i Chapter volunteers launched the Ocean Friendly Restaurants (OFR) program in the islands on Earth Day 2016. The goal was to find a new way to focus on legislative reform by helping to reduce the plastic footprint coming from restaurants, particularly take out containers, plastic bags and utensils. The OFR program recognized restaurants leading the way in environmental protection by operating without foam and plastic.

“Some politicians argued that banning styrofoam or single-use plastics would hurt businesses. Consumers vote with their wallets, so we wanted to work with businesses and support the ones who were doing the right thing,” said Stuart Coleman, Hawaiian Islands Manager for Surfrider Foundation.

Within nine months of its launch, volunteers had certified over 100 Ocean Friendly Restaurants across the state. Surfrider has also been instrumental in banning styrofoam on Maui and Hawai‘i Island.

GAINING MOMENTUM

The success of the OFR program in Hawai‘i helped the Surfrider Foundation launch the Ocean Friendly Restaurants program on a national level. Now, Hawai‘i is one of the top OFR states in the country, and there are more than 500 restaurants certified nationwide.

In 2017, Town Hospitality Group, led by Ed Kenney and Dave Caldiero, was awarded the Business of the Year by Surfrider Foundation – Oahu Chapter. All four of the company’s restaurants – Town, Kaimuki Superette, Mud Hen Water and Mahina & Sun’s – earned OFR’s Platinum certification and were among the first to join Surfrider’s OFR Program.

Kenney recently joined Jack Johnson in a promotional video for Surfrider highlighting Ocean Friendly Restaurants, lending their star power to the cause. Kenney is vocal about the plastic pollution epidemic and has lent testimony to support this issue through legislative action.

Several other OFRs—like The Nook, Koko Head Cafe, Mama T’s Umeke Market, Fete, Farm to Fork, and Tin Roof—have also supported plastic-free legislation.

The momentum doesn’t stop at the legislature. Earlier this year, Ocean Friendly Restaurants partnered with The Traveling Plate on a statewide fundraising promotion highlighting dishes from participating OFR restaurants.

The Mill House, Duke’s, Highway Inn, Moku Kitchen, and Pint & Jigger have all hosted Ocean Friendly Pau Hanas, offering special gatherings as a way to build community and celebrate Surfrider’s volunteers.

Outrigger Hotels & Resorts and Kahala Hotel & Resort have become ocean friendly hotels, where each restaurant’s outlets are OFR-certified.

DRIVEN BY PASSION

Natalie Wohner, a University of Hawai‘i PhD student studying mechanical engineering and materials science, agreed to co-chair the Ocean Friendly Restaurants committee on Oahu last year. “The ocean gives me so much, so I wanted to find a way to give back to it and really make an impact,” she said. “Surfrider provides a channel for me to do that.”

Wohner has volunteered for Surfrider for the past three years. While she feels a sense of gratification and purpose, she also wishes there were more people to help lighten her load.

“People forget that we’re all volunteers in this very grassroots organization,” she says. “Right now, it’s primarily just me and Anny Barlow certifying all of the restaurants. We have done some great things, but would love to have more help.”

The neighbor islands have similar challenges. On Maui, Lorin Ifkovic serves as chair, and on Kauai, Ruta Jordans serves as chair. Both are actively looking for more volunteers to help identify Ocean Friendly Restaurants, then certify them. Hawai‘i Island currently does not have an active OFR chair for either Kona or Hilo.

“There’s always more work to do,” said Coleman. “But looking back ten years ago, working at Surfrider was a lonely place. Now, we have mainstream awareness of the plastic pollution epidemic and businesses and community members who want to help drive behavior change. Looking back at my time at Surfrider Foundation, Ocean Friendly Restaurants is probably the most impactful thing we’ve done.”

HOW TO REGISTER

There are five criteria that all OFR participating restaurants must follow: they must only provide paper straws and to-go utensils upon request; they cannot distribute Styrofoam or plastic bags; they must follow proper recycling practices; and they must utilize reusable foodware for onsite dining.

In addition to these core commitments, the restaurant must also choose a minimum of two more criteria from the following list: refrain from the sale of beverages packaged in plastic bottles; offer discounts to customers who bring their own reusable cup/mug/bag, etc.; offer vegetarian or vegan menu options on a regular basis; serve seafood that is designated as “Best Choice” or “Good Alternative” by Seafood Watch, or is otherwise certified as sustainable; implement water conservation and pollution mitigation efforts; and put energy efficient efforts in place.

A restaurant that meets all of the above criteria will be recognized as a Platinum Level Ocean Friendly Restaurant.

For more information on the Ocean Friendly Restaurants program and its coalition of partners, the full list of certified restaurants, and how to get certified, go to: oceanfriendlyrestaurantshawaii.org.