LINCOLN SQUARE — Beans & Bagels is out to prove that a business built on a premise of sustainability is, well, sustainable.
"I couldn't just become a 'green' restaurant because I don't know what that is. But I could reduce our harm," said Snow, who took over daily operations at Beans & Bagels three years ago.
Under his direction, Beans & Bagels, which operates locations near the Rockwell and Montrose Brown Line stations, just became the first Chicago business to sign on with No Foam Chicago.
The grassroots organization is dedicated to eliminating the use of Styrofoam products in the city's restaurants, bars and cafes, as well as #6 plastic, which the city doesn't recycle. A good example of #6 plastic are the containers used for the salad dressing we all love to order on the side.
Founded by Stacey Pfingsten, No Foam is in the midst of an awareness campaign regarding Styrofoam's detrimental effects on people's health and the environment, said Lindsey Elton of No Foam.
"What we're really looking to do is get the conversation going of what's in the waste stream," she said.
Snow, who has a degree in environmental ethics, was already thinking along those lines and agreed to serve as the guinea pig for No Foam's window decal program, which offers businesses a visible symbol to promote their green choices.
"When you patronize somewhere it is a conscious choice," Elton said. "One thing [consumers] can do is patronize the businesses that speak to their ideals."
Unlike say, Uncommon Ground, Beans & Bagels isn't necessarily the first place that comes to mind when scrolling through a mental list of Chicago's greenest eateries. Even the cafe's most loyal customers might not be aware of some of the environmentally-friendly changes enacted during Snow's tenure.
The shop discontinued its catering program, and with it the use of Styrofoam plates and clam shell-style take-out containers. He also switched to cups lined with a vegetable-based substance that's compostable as opposed to petroleum-based, which isn't. (According to Elton, a number of companies fool consumers by coating their Styrofoam cups with a material that resembles paper.)
Snow estimated that Beans goes through 150,000 cups per year, and "we're just one tiny shop," he said. "I want it to be something that will break down."
Though the new cups are pricier, he's partially offset the added expense by encouraging customers to bring their own mugs, which Beans will fill with java at a discount.
Employees also have been trained to hand out a single napkin with every order, as opposed to six or seven, and Snow replaced plastic stirring sticks with flatware spoons.
"It's an inconvenience when you're the 50th customer and we've just run out of spoons," he admitted.
Other efforts at sustainability have been harder nuts to crack.
"Coffee's a huge challenge," Snow said. "It took three years to move to an organic, socially responsible coffee."
And composting remains an ongoing struggle. Snow said Beans & Bagels goes through a half-ton of compostable material every week, the bulk of it coffee grounds.
Customers will occasionally ask for the compost, but Snow said, "I would like to have it more systematized."
For Snow, the goal is to implement progressive actions incrementally, when they make good business sense.
"The idea here has been to steadily move toward increased sustainability," he said. "But you also have to be fiscally sustainable."