Tuesday, November 06, 2007

How Green is the Black Dog?

For The Black Dog Pub, going green is just part of doing business. The owner and staff of the popular restaurant, which is located right on the border of Toronto and Pickering, decided less than a year ago to take their personal concern for the environment and translate it into the pub’s operations.

"A bunch of the staff got together and we decided it was the right thing to do," said Amanda Firth, one of the Black Dog's assistant managers. She says that the changes were not only the right ones to make from an environmental perspective, but from a business one as well.

So exactly how green is The Black Dog? I recently paid the pub a visit to find out for myself. My first impression was that it was just another popular pub. Nicely decorated, predictably noisy (it was a Friday night) with lots of pub-like atmosphere.

And then I saw the menu. For starters, it's printed on post consumer recycled paper and printed with soy-based ink. In addition to traditional pub fare like bangers and mash and steak and kidney pie, it offers a full range of vegetarian and organic dishes. As an added touch, the menu also identifies "heart smart" items - a practice that has won The Black Dog the Eat Smart Award of Excellence from the Toronto Board of Health.

Perhaps the restaurants most unusual (and environmentally sound) practice is the commitment to buy locally, whenever possible. The wine list focuses on selections from the Niagara Region, which according to the menu "Produces some very exceptional wines that do not have to travel halfway around the globe to get here." For those who prefer bottled water, the Black Dog only offers water that is bottled locally in Caledon, Ontario, in refillable glass bottles. The coffee is 100 percent organic, fair-trade (which means the growers are paid a fair price for the beans.) Food for the restaurant is also bought locally and all of the vegetables are 100 percent organic.

"We proudly support local farmers, ranchers, and foragers," boasts the menu, "and are dedicated to using organic, chemical free and genetically unaltered produce whenever possible."

If that wasn't enough, the menu lists some of the many green ideas that have been implemented at the restaurant that go well beyond what’s for dinner and encourages patrons to, "Take these ideas home and to work."

For example, water is diverted off the restaurant's roof into a reservoir and is used to water flowers and gardens, including the rooftop garden that provides a seasonal supply of organic herbs. Used cooking oil (which is trans-fat free) is recycled into biodiesel fuel. All paper products, including serviettes, napkins and toilet paper, are made post-consumer, recycled, unbleached paper. Take out containers are also made from post-consumer, recycled fibers and are biodegradable.

The restaurant's many energy and water saving programs include the use of low-watt bulbs, timers and dimmers. Washroom and storage rooms are equipped with motion sensors that automatically shut off the lights when unoccupied. The washrooms are also equipped with flush control devices to minimize water use.

Even the candles are green. Petroleum-based wax candles were replaced with 100 percent clean-burning, soy-based ones. Cleaning supplies are all made from safe, eco-friendly formulas. Staff uniforms are made from hemp and bamboo, which according to the menu saves, "thousands of gallons of water and pesticides and acres of valuable farmland."

The Black Dog scores top marks in the waste department, too. All of the food waste generated is composted and all paper, plastic and glass is recycled. Suppliers are encouraged to minimize their packaging.

One of the best things about The Black Dog is that all of the environmental changes and improvements made at the restaurant are transparent. The atmosphere is warm and inviting, the service is excellent and the menu has something for everyone. And while I was prepared to pay a little extra for being green, I was pleasantly surprised when we got our bill. The total bill for a party of five was less than $200 (or about $35 to 40 per person) and included appetizers, wine, entrees, dessert, coffee and tea.

While there currently are no plans to open more Black Dogs, the restaurant's success provides an excellent business model for others to follow. The pub is hugely popular and has been given 51 awards (and counting) including "Best Organic Restaurant."

"We decided to run with it and it's been fantastic," said Amanda Firth proudly. "We’ve added to our customer base while maintaining our existing clientele." Now that's something to bark about!


To find out more about the Black Dog visit www.blackdogpub.com.


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