In the days before I first opened Chaco Canyon in 2003, I found myself shopping for the last items we needed to be ready.
I came to the section with disposable utensils and paused for some time. This was in the dark ages before compostable was an option so we’re talking rigid plastic, single-use utensils. I just couldn’t do it, and made a hurried trip to Goodwill to stock up on silverware to hand out to people until I could come up with a better idea.
A funny thing happened as we pondered a better plan: the ad-hoc one worked great for everyone. Nine out of ten customers, when offered the option of a piece of silverware, said that they had a fork or spoon in the car or office, and they didn’t need anything. Those that took them tended to come back and return their fork (great for retention), and most everyone understood that – while this was an admittedly weird system – they appreciated not feeling guilty for using a manufactured item from a far-flung country once and then tossing it into the waste stream.
Put this system side by side with the “normal” thing to do in the restaurant industry: putting a disposable fork, spoon and napkin (and knife and chopsticks….) in every bag, just to make sure everyone absolutely gets utensils. Taking the time to ask everyone who gets something to go, and explaining that they can actually take utensils (or bamboo chopsticks) takes a lot more time and effort, but one of the main differentiators between a business that is “green” and one that has in its mission to have Zero Impact on the planet someday.
We’ve saved over a half million single-use utensils from production and disposal just by making this simple choice – that’s a good start.
Choosing not to have disposable utensils, and dozens of other ‘unusual’ behaviors and choices we make every day at Chaco Canyon, are what makes us unique and special. It’s why we won the 2013 Green Washington Award and the 2014 Recycler of the Year Award for small businesses, as well as many other accolades and awards throughout the years.
The sustainability and zero impact ethos permeate the café, from myself to the staff, to our customers and out into the city. One of our staff recently contacted me to let me know that, as part of a bridal planning committee, she was assigned to buy a bunch of one-time use Solo cups for the reception. “The environmentalist in me cringed”, she stated, and then asked if Chaco could buy some re-usable cups for her to bring to the wedding, and then put them into use at the cafes afterwards as water cups. Of course we can! I love our staff.
Working for a sustainable planet has changed over the last 30 years. Recycling and composting are no longer the hallmark of environmentalism; they are the base expectation to start from. Thanks to smart local legislation around Styrofoam and plastic bags, Seattle is a true leader in the movement for a sustainable planet. We as a community should keep pushing for more, better, and weirder solutions to loving our planet. What are you doing in your house?
Chaco Canyon Organic Cafes