The Greenest of the Green: Chicago's Uncommon Ground

Uncommon Grounds in Chicago

Uncommon Ground in Chicago boasts the first Certified Organic Rooftop Farm in the country.

by Michael Oshman
Green Restaurant Association

As we enter into 2012, there are two exciting milestones to report. The first is that the GRA just crowned Uncommon Ground, located in Chicago, The Greenest Restaurant® in the World. They are only one of six to become a 4 Star Certified Green Restaurant®. They have implemented a total of 116 Environmental Steps to earn 365 GreenPoints™– more than any restaurant in the world.

Some of their more exciting accomplishments are:

  • Solar Panels to Heat Water
  • Cutting Edge LED Lighting in 39% of Their Fixtures
  • Reclaimed Wood for Cabinetry and Tables
  • Biodiesel Vehicle
  • The First Certified Organic Rooftop Farm in the Country
  • Zero Waste (Recycling and Composting)
  • Local, Regional, Organic and Sustainable Food Purchasing
  • Use of Environmentally-Friendly Cleaning Supplies and Disposables

This is what President Obama’s former Chief of Staff and current Chicago Mayor, Rahm Emmanuel, had to say about this milestone. “I’m proud to have in our City of Chicago the Greenest Restaurant in the Country. Uncommon Ground is a great example of what our city can do, use water and energy more efficiently, grow more sustainable food, while boasting the world’s most sustainable businesses.”

Uncommon Ground is a Near-Zero Waste™ restaurant with virtually no garbage. They are on the cutting edge of putting garbage into the waste baskets of our history books. I had the delightful opportunity to visit their rooftop garden… to see how they produce 700 pounds of organic Hyper-Hyper Local Food. Their customers are eating food that was sometimes picked minutes before.
“We are proud to raise the bar and now be the Greenest Restaurant in the country,” says Helen Cameron from Uncommon Ground. “We truly care about operating a Certified Green Restaurant® and we challenge restaurants around the U.S. to exceed our record of environmental accomplishments. As an industry, we have the potential to make a huge difference in taking better care of our planet—and ourselves.”

A Chain of Green Restaurants

The second recent milestone is that GRA certifed an entire chain with over 120 locations of Sweet Tomatoes and Souplantation. Garden Fresh, the parent company of these two brands, is the first national chain to have all of their locations become Certified Green Restaurants®. Garden Fresh has been working toward certification for the past two years and has now completed the process. As part of the sustainability measures taken, Garden Fresh has upgraded to high-efficiency spray valves, energy-efficient lighting, and green cleaning products. They recycle glass, paper, aluminum, and cardboard packaging.

The chain is Styrofoam-free and guests at Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes restaurants use non-disposable dishes and cutlery, diverting waste from landfills and incinerators. Every year, Garden Fresh estimates it will save 2.1 million pounds of waste paper, 7.5 million gallons of water, 4.4 million kilowatts of energy and 3,194 cubic yards of landfill space because of these current changes. As part of this certification, Garden Fresh will provide sustainability educational training to its employees annually.

An interesting fact is that over 70% of their total food purchases are vegetarian, which earned them a significant amount of GreenPoints™.

“We have always sought innovative ways to be thoughtful about our impact on the environment. I believe that attitude is consistent with our product, the wishes of our guests and our brand,” said Michael Mack, CEO of Garden Fresh Restaurant Corp. “The Green Restaurant Association provided us with a wonderful opportunity to further our efforts and we strongly value their hard work in transitioning the restaurant industry into a more environmentally responsible industry. Not only do we serve greens on our salad bars, but also all of our locations are now officially ‘green’ restaurants. We hope to set a standard among other national and large-chain restaurants to encourage them to follow suit.”

Garden Fresh and Uncommon Ground are blazing a green trail for others to follow suit, demonstrating that green business is smart business. In 2012, remember that you don’t have to make news to have green make business sense for you. The evidence that Certified Green Restaurants® operate in a more financially prudent manner is strong.

The Green Restaurant Association (GRA) has been making it simple for restaurants to "go green" for nearly 20 years. For more information on the language and steps to take, visit



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