"I wanted to create a sustainable and healthy life for all of humanity," says Michael Oshman, 34, founder of the Sharon, Mass.--based Green Restaurant Association (GRA), dinegreen.com which was started in 1990 to help restaurateurs convert their establishments into eco-friendly and sustainable businesses.
Although the association now has more than 200 members in 20 states, it's not so easy being green in the service business. Members must agree to follow a set of environmental guidelines, including the use of green power, sustainable food, chlorine-free paper products, and recycling and composting programs. Oshman says the GRA's main goal is to facilitate new members' transitions to full certification, which can take 10 days to several months.
"We don't leave them [the restaurants] to figure out everything on their own," he says. "We find the product names, distributors and waste-management providers. We're there at every step, so it takes a big load off the restaurateur."
To date, the GRA's biggest member is the West Coast chain Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, a popular spot with Los Angeles' young Hollywood crowd. Oshman is also in talks with two top restaurant chains.
"The whole argument that living a sustainable life is just for the élite isn't true," says Oshman. "There are things, like recycling, that are within the grasp of all of us."
For his part, Oshman maintains a vegan diet and says he was, in 1999, one of the first people to buy a hybrid car. He considers his house to be 99% organic, with beds made of nonformaldehyde materials and net-zero energy provided by solar and geothermal systems.
"In 20 or 30 years, our children and grandchildren are going to wonder how we had this [oil] as our source for energy," he says. "People will be outraged that our daily lives could cause so much destruction."