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City of Little Rock launches green restaurant certification program

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Daniel Breen
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KUAR News
Little Rock Zoo Director Susan Altrui announces the launch of the "Swing Into Action" Green Restaurant Certification Program alongside city officials and Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr.

The City of Little Rock is launching a new initiative to encourage more sustainable practices in local restaurants.

Mayor Frank Scott Jr. joined city officials at the Little Rock Zoo on Thursday to announce the “Swing Into Action” Green Restaurant Certification Program. The zoo’s restaurant, Café Africa, is one of the first in the city to take part in the program.

Zoo Director Susan Altrui said they’ve already taken steps like eliminating single-use plastic straws and plastic bags in their food service facilities.

“We switched to aluminum cans in our vending in order to further reduce plastics consumption. We worked with partners such as Keep Arkansas Beautiful to encourage aluminum and plastics recycling, and we’ve ended and enacted a full-scale composting program with animal byproducts,” Altrui said.

The program is divided into three tiers, with restaurants implementing changes like composting and installing new energy-saving equipment, to simpler efforts like not bringing diners a glass of water without asking. The city’s Sustainability Office will be in charge of inspections and certifying restaurants seeking to join the program.

Little Rock Sustainability Officer Lennie Massanelli said the program is designed to ease owners into more sustainable business practices.

“When the set of requirements for a specific tier have been met, the Sustainability Office will schedule a review and certification walk-through,” Massanelli said. “Completion of a tier level will earn restaurants recognition, free marketing through websites, social media outlets and other media partnerships, and will provide restaurants with displays of certification like window clings and marketing graphics.”

The idea for the program began about two years ago with Karen Zuccardi, chair of the Little Rock Sustainability Commission, who interviewed about 60 restaurant owners in the city as part of her studies at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.

“This is something that the community needs. It’s good PR for the city, it also helps save money to the restaurants, and it’s a good feeling for us as a community to know that we are doing something good for our environment, and also being good stewards of the good type of practices for sustainable economic development,” Zuccardi said.

Ward 4 City Director Capi Peck, who owns Trio’s Restaurant, said she has been championing similar initiatives for sustainable restaurants over the past two decades. She says investing in more sustainable business practices will ultimately pay off for fellow restaurant owners.

“I think a lot of people, including me, make conscious decisions on what restaurants and food trucks they’re going to support based on how sustainable they are, and I think especially younger people are beginning to do that,” Peck said. “We’re partnering not just with the zoo but with the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau to have a presence there, because I think especially tourists and travelers seek out green businesses.”

Peck says about 20 of the more than 500 restaurants in the area have already begun implementing some of the practices included in the green restaurant certification program.

Training materials for restaurants will be available in both English and Spanish. More information is available at the Little Rock Zoo’s website, or by calling the Little Rock Sustainability Office at (501) 371-4646.