(This post originally appeared on The Guardian)
Ask any restaurant owner today and they’ll tell you that running their business is not easy. Costs are creeping up, margins are tight and the competition is tough. So the last thing a restaurateur would want is another tax, right?
That’s what Anthony Myint is hoping. Myint is the co-owner of Mission Chinese, a popular restaurant with locations in the Bay Area and New York. He’s concerned with the environment and particularly global warming. So he has decided to do something about it. And because of his efforts, the state of California will have a new tax this fall that restaurant owners are being asked to levy on their customers. It’s called the Restore California Renewable Restaurant program. But don’t worry, tax-haters: this tax isn’t as onerous as you might think.
For starters, it’s just 1% added on the diner’s bill. And, very importantly, it’s optional. But to me, the most important thing is that California restaurant owners can decide where the money goes. They can direct funds towards specific growers that they buy from. Otherwise the funds would be sent to other state farmers to help them improve the health of their soil so that more carbon dioxide – one of the chief contributors to climate change – is captured. This is an expensive process which requires adding compost, planting hedgerows with woody plants and “cover crops” in between revenue-producing crops. Most farmers can’t afford this kind of investment without outside help.
“Ingredients represent 65% of where an average restaurant’s carbon footprint lies,” Myint told USA Today. “So you have to look carefully at how the ingredients you use are produced.”
How did one business owner accomplish all of this? Myint started a not-for-profit a few years ago that called for restaurants to go carbon-neutral and supported other companies that worked to reduce carbon dioxide in soil. He then took the effort to state officials during a Global Action Climate Summit last fall and the state – particularly the governor, Gavin Newsom (a staunch supporter of climate change action) – embraced it.
Myint is pushing for the state to make certain restaurants who join to be “preferred vendors” and expects public awareness of the new program to increase in the coming months. He believes that if just 1% of California’s nearly 100,000 restaurants jumped on board, more than $10m a year would be raised to supplement the state’s efforts. “Across the country, restaurants are an $800bn business and represent one in 10 US workers, which is too much money and people to not be part of the solution,” he says.
Like any business owner I hate taxes. And so do my customers. Even a 1% tax – just a measly dollar on a $100 dinner bill – is still money coming out of someone’s pocket. But the Restore California Renewable Restaurant program tax isn’t like that.
It’s optional so even global warming naysayers have the opportunity to opt out. It can be directed towards specific beneficiaries, as opposed to most other taxes that disappear into the state’s coffers. It provides a way for both a government and an industry to work together to solve a problem. And most importantly, it’s raising money to solve a potentially big, big problem. Myint may not only have come up with a good way to help combat global warming. He may have stumbled upon a great taxing model that could work for other causes too.