Expert Advice on Green Buildings

LEED for Food?: REAL Nutrition Rating System Modeled After Green Building Certification


The United States Healthful Food Council (USHFC) recently released their Responsible Epicurean and Agricultural Leadership (REAL) certification program for restaurants, caterers, and food service operators.

The REAL program is modeled after the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building certification program. Like LEED, REAL will be a voluntary program with multiple levels of certification: silver, gold, and platinum.

REAL is working with food and nutrition experts to develop a consensus-based, points-based rating system, much like LEED. The program will award points to restaurants who use nutrition best practices, such as organic and local foods, restricted dietary offerings, fresh fruits and vegetables, free-range meats, and moderate or multiple portion sizes.

Just as LEED certified buildings increase property values, the REAL program is designed to attract new business to restaurants with healthy, nutritious menus. Like LEED, REAL certified restaurants will be given certification seals to display in their windows. Plus, the REAL program will partner with restaurant websites, such as Yelp, Zagat, and OpenTable to promote REAL certified food service operations.

Industry Attack on LEED

Interestingly, this follows an industry attack on the LEED green building rating system. Currently, the General Services Administration (GSA) requires LEED certification for all federal buildings; however, the GSA is now reviewing its green building standards.

In response, twenty-seven trade groups, including representatives from the plastics and chemical industries, have formed the American High-Performance Buildings Coalition. The coalition believes that LEED v4, the new version of LEED, will award projects points for avoiding certain materials, which could prevent these industries from garnering new business from federal construction and remodeling. Therefore, it aims to dethrone LEED and change the federal standard to Green Globes, which has fewer of these "anti-industry" components.

The fact that USHFC modeled the REAL program after LEED demonstrates that the green building program, despite controversy, holds some weight as a well-structured, credible program. While certain components of the LEED program may seem controversial to industry stakeholders, the concept of a voluntary, point-based certification system that recognizes sustainable efforts and adds value to certified properties could translate to many industries - not just food service. REAL could be just one of many certification systems modeled after LEED - perhaps one day we'll see similar rating programs for industries such as healthcare, education and hospitality.

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