Green, or Greenwash?

According to the masses, via Wikipedia, “Greenwashing is a form of spin in which green PR or green marketing is deceptively used to promote the perception that an organization's aims and policies are environmentally friendly. Whether it is to increase profits or gain political support, greenwashing may be used to manipulate popular opinion to support otherwise questionable aims.”

The New York Times published an article about this on October 17th 2015, exposing many companies’ failed attempts at greenwashing their products. From innocuous attempts like Lulu Lemon Athletica claiming their seaweed fabric apparel had health benefits, to diabolical attempts like Volkswagen rigging their diesel engine cars to trick emissions testing. Needless to say, there are many levels and many types of greenwashing, so we decided to take a closer look.

In our industry, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design or “LEED” Certification is the gold standard for green building. From 1994 to 2006, the LEED certification program went from one categorical classification to a comprehensive system of interrelated standards. While this program has had a robust impact on building large projects, it doesn’t always make an impact on small to medium size projects. Many of our clients would love to build a LEED certified restaurant, home or office but don’t have the opportunity with constraints on time and budget. This leaves much of the selection of environmentally green products and finishes to our discretion. Though we don’t often get to build LEED certified spaces, we try to understand what’s really “green” and select accordingly. Many times however, we’re in the same position as any other consumer, left trying to figure out whether a product or finish is actually green, or just greenwashed.  

We discovered a very helpful website about green washing recently for day-to-day situations, that has a lot of valuable information on this subject. It is also very well put together with fun, colorful characters, games and fact cards. describes green washing in a series of "sins" that are accurate and something we deal with every week as we specify products for our projects. These "sins" are as follows: 

1. Sin of the hidden trade off  

2. Sin of no proof 

3. Sin of vagueness 

4. Sin of worshiping false labels 

5. Sin of irrelevance 

6. Sin of lesser of two evils 

7. Sin of fibbing 

To see an explanation of each of these "sins," go to their website, It’s definitely worth your time! Also, Green Peace has launched a website dealing with green washing as well. They give the following advice should you come across green washing:   

Corporations must play a central role in helping solve the world's environmental challenges. They must do this by making real changes to their policies and practices.  At the same time, consumers, policy makers and journalists must be able to look beneath the green veneer and hold corporations accountable for the impacts their core business decisions and investments are having on our planet. The Greenpeace Greenwash Criteria can help consumers and journalists distinguish between green and greenwash. Consumers can take action when they witness greenwash by contacting corporations and policymakers to voice concerns, or by drawing attention to misleading claims via blogs, websites, and other outreach. They can also contact the Federal Trade Commission or the Better Business Bureau to register complaints. 

Legally, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has the responsibility and authority to take action against misleading ads and claims. Consumers can register complaints online, or boycott manufacturers known to greenwash. Most importantly, remember to take action yourself by being more green in your everyday activities. Your ability to contribute to a greener environment by avoiding wasting water, electricity, gas, and food, and by recycling and reusing has a huge impact, and at a critical mass, the network effects will make everyone’s world a lot greener.



Restaurant Construction Costs in San Francisco

If you are interested in opening a new restaurant, you will need to include certain items in your budget.  Having enough money for construction, permits, equipment, furniture and design fees is vital.   We have seen the cost of construction and equipment rise quite substantially in the last two years.  In this post we will focus on construction costs alone, which do not include any of the other items mentioned above.  People new to building a restaurant from scratch often lump construction costs in with the costs of permits, kitchen equipment, and furniture, but in reality, those costs are all different, and must be line-itemed separately from the get-go. It may not be obvious at first, but the money for each type of item goes to different parties, and seen in that light, you should get it right from the start. 

According to the RS Means Construction Cost Data Report, which is where most of the industry (including building departments) reference construction costs, building a restaurant costs on average $238.12 per square foot (and let me repeat… this does not include equipment, furniture, permits or design fees!).

We have found that amount to be fairly accurate.  For a completely “vanilla” space (nothing you’d see on our website) the cost seems to hover around $165.00 per square foot, and for a space made to a “high design” level you can expect to pay $238.12 per square foot. At the very least, and for a healthy project expect to pay $200 per square foot. 

The one segment of construction where we have seen the highest increase in cost has been mechanical, which includes hoods and ducting, air conditioning and heating, gas lines and plumbing. This portion of work can take up to 40% of your budget if you have to start with a space not already fitted with this work.   This wasn’t always the case but, the shortage of mechanical contractors has driven up the cost.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the smaller your space, the higher the cost per square foot for construction. You will most likely pay more per square foot than a larger space because you won’t be able to take advantage of quantity discounts. 

There are a lot of factors that make up a construction budget so once you have a space in mind, contact a design professional to walk through the space and help you understand what is necessary to get the it up to code, and how much work it will take to get you operational.  Later, once a design is in place, architectural drawings can go out to bid to a few general contractors to firm up the price.  

 We suggest that when you are working on your business plan that you budget with a 10-20% contingency margin so that you have the opportunity to build out the space how you want it.  Very often, construction budgets are too small and we have to bear the bad news that the owner can’t afford their vision, or that they need to find additional investors.  All in all, allowing for the average per square foot cost of $238.12 in your front end planning is a good idea for the healthy completion of your project.