Carson's green dining district looking to grow

Donna Walden of greenUP! — organizer of the Carson City Green Dining District — beneath a promotional banner over Carson Street on April 24.

Donna Walden of greenUP! — organizer of the Carson City Green Dining District — beneath a promotional banner over Carson Street on April 24. Photo by Scott Neuffer.

Green business is good for the environment but also for business, maintains Donna Walden, president of the local not-for-profit group greenUP!, which is working with Carson City restaurants to build a green dining district.

“More and more customers, young people in particular, want to know the businesses they are supporting have green practices,” Walden said during a tour of the district in downtown Carson on April 21. “People will pay more for a green brand, and it’s getting more important all the time.”

Initially funded by grants from the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection, the Carson Street Green Dining District has seven members, Walden said. And she would like to see membership grow. Following Earth Day and going through Sunday, three district members are promoting different menu items, from salads to sausages. Great Basin Brewing Co., Squeeze In and So Juicy reside within a block and a half of each other.

“The green dining district in Carson City is the first green dining district in the whole state,” said Walden. “The green dining district started here on Carson Street, 2019, and we work with restaurants to reduce waste of all kinds. We encourage them to recycle; we encourage them to reduce plastic waste; we encourage them not to use Styrofoam; we encourage them to reduce food waste.”

Walden said after the COVID-19 pandemic, which hurt restaurants across the state, the green dining concept picked up some steam. greenUP! spearheaded a similar dining district in Reno last summer.

“Mainly we want to take the momentum we started in Carson City and just build on it to other regions,” said Walden. “There is so much you can do with restaurants to reduce waste and environmental impacts. There is an awful lot that can be done.”

To join the green district, restaurant managers or owners must participate in a waste audit.

“We take a baseline measurement of all their waste,” Walden said. “After six months, we measure it again, and that’s how you determine behavior changes, to see if there is any change.”

Walden stressed the program is grant-funded and free for businesses.

Kacie DeKruse, co-owner of So Juicy, said she’s been part of the green dining district since 2019.

“It’s a really easy process,” she said of joining.

So Juicy donates juice pulp to the Carson-based Greenhouse Project. So Juicy is also part of a pilot program for reusable to-go boxes.

“People love these,” DeKruse said of the containers.

Walden said the containers can be dropped off at participating locations, washed by the restaurants and reused. People can purchase tokens for the containers online.

“Our goal is to get them into circulation,” she said. “We have some sustainable-minded people who use them, but we really want to get them mainstream.”

Great Basin uses the pilot containers, too. As a green dining district member, the company focuses on sustainable fare. For example, the company uses spent grains from the brewery in the restaurant bread and the iconic Icky beer for sausage.

Igor Jovicic, general manager of Great Basin, described how sustainability connects the local economy but boosts tourism as well.

“Visitors,” he said. “They want to see what locals have to provide.”

greenUP! also runs the Nevada Green Business Network in conjunction with Western Nevada College. While the green dining district focuses on food waste, the business network weighs several factors.

“On the dining side of things, we focus on food waste and recycling,” said Walden. “For the green business program, they also have to look at what are their transportation habits, what are their energy efficiency practices, solid waste and the whole thing.”

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