The Northwest Earth Institute (NWEI) is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to inspire people to take responsibility for Earth. Since NWEI started the EcoChallenge in 2009, approximately 3,500 people have participated.
Here’s how the EcoChallenge works: each October, participants choose one habit to change for two weeks, to make their life (or business) a little more sustainable. They design their own challenge in one of five categories—water, trash, energy, food or transportation. EcoChallengers share their progress with family, friends and other challengers via personalized blogs on the website. This year, more than 1,000 people joined in, including businesses and local schools.
Tapalaya Restaurant, 28 NE 28th, was part of this year’s challenge. From day one, sustainability has been a part of both our business model and ethos. We were the first restaurant on our block to request on-site composting from the city. Every Wednesday, we offer an all-night happy hour for anyone who travels to the restaurant by bike. We use fresh, local ingredients as much as possible. And this year from October 1-15, I decided to lock up my car keys and run the restaurant entirely by bicycle, as part of the Northwest Earth Institute’s annual EcoChallenge.
Although I’m an avid bicyclist in my off-hours, a commitment to local ingredients means daily trips to vendors all over town, and that adds up to many hours in the car. The EcoChallenge seemed like the perfect opportunity to push the restaurant and myself a little further in sustainability, although I wasn’t really sure whether I’d be able to pull it off. I can report that my participation in this event has definitely been a learning experience—but one of the best lessons is that it was easier than I thought it would be.
As the EcoChallenge got underway, I discovered a great bike route to Hayden Island and actually enjoyed towing a bike trailer full of ice and crab back to the restaurant. I also had the opportunity to bike to Guam (well, to Guam Street) to pick up a will-call order for vanilla beans from Provvista. In all, each day I probably spent about two hours on the bike. It required a little extra planning but has also meant a lot of great outdoor-time – a rarity in the restaurant business – making the most of this beautiful autumn weather.
I admit that there were a few lowlights, too. Locking the bike and the trailer can be a little unwieldy, and I did get cursed at by a driver because I was too close to the car lane with my crab-laden trailer in tow.
The hands down highlight was the enthusiasm of Tapalaya’s customers. Many of them asked me about my daily bike adventures, and—perhaps lured by the $20 gift certificate I offered to anyone who joined the EcoChallenge team—23 of them signed up to take on their own EcoChallenges. Some of them biked, while others tried on veganism, used reusable coffee cups and joined a local car share program. I loved reading their daily blogs on the EcoChallenge website and hearing about their “A-ha!” moments along the way.
The EcoChallenge offered me a chance to pause and examine how I run the restaurant and the impact it has on the environment. In just two weeks, I found ways to change some patterns of behavior to run my business more sustainably. I got accustomed to managing my time and resources differently so I could implement more eco-friendly business practices.
To find out more go to www.ecochallenge.org.