Long before Matt McLaughlin became active in the National Restaurant Association’s Conserve initiative, he began implementing environmentally friendly practices at The Rockfish, an Ocean Pro restaurant in Annapolis, Md.
Ocean Pro started by expanding its sustainable seafood offerings at The Rockfish. That was easy because the company has direct access to fisheries through Profish, Ocean Pro’s seafood distribution company. Today, about 12 of The Rockfish’s 15 seafood options are sustainable, and a quarter of its wines come from certified organic wineries that don’t use pesticides, McLaughlin says.
From there, he started investigating green roofs, which allow businesses or homeowners to grow plants above a draining and filtration system. The engineering can be complicated because the systems can add eight to 25 pounds per square foot to the roof, McLaughlin says. “And they tend to be expensive.”
Instead, he had 4-foot by 4-foot boxes built on the roof, where employees planted herbs. This year, they added more boxes and planted lettuce, green beans, cucumbers and cabbage. So far, it’s cost about $1,200, but it’s almost half as effective in slowing and filtering storm runoff as the green roof — at 1 percent of the cost, McLaughlin says.
“We’re really proud of that,” he says. “We have enough cilantro, parsley and rosemary to garnish our plates every weekend. And we design our weekend specials around the lettuce or cucumbers or whatever’s blooming.”
Then the company started a recycling program. At the time, the county didn’t offer recycling for businesses. So McLaughlin found a recycling facility that would take its recycled waste for $12,000 a year. Then he started thinking about how to help smaller businesses in the community that couldn’t afford an extra $1,000 a month to recycle.
So he set up big bins for cardboard, aluminum, plastic, glass and newspaper and told fellow business owners that The Rockfish would buy them a beer when they dropped off their recycling. McLaughlin took the items to the recycling plant, which now accepts the waste for free.
McLaughlin believes many small opportunities are available for restaurants to become more environmentally sound.