The Certified Blue Program, established in 2013 by the Athens-Clarke County water department, helps restaurants, bars and fast food establishments in Athens use less water and use it more efficiently.
The main way they do this is by implementing different technology into their businesses, such as aerators for bathroom faucets and high-efficiency pre-rinse valves, according to the water department website.
Athens-based franchise Locos Grill & Pub was one of the first institutions to become certified Blue.
“[The water department] reached out to me and said ‘These are all the areas we can help you conserve water,’ and I’ve been a part of Athens for 35 years, so of course I wanted to take part in it,” Locos CEO Jamey Loftin said.
Jamey Loftin said participating in the program has lowered the restaurant’s water bill. Prior to its initial evaluation, Locos had a “pretty big” leak underground that Loftin was unaware of and was “costing a lot to the pocketbook.” After the evaluation, they discovered the leak and were able to fix it.
Laurie Loftin, ACC water conservation coordinator, said the program has grown well since its beginning in 2013, and the program now has 35 participants.
According to a 2017 program effectiveness analysis, the Certified Blue program has shown a 10% reduction in water usage in restaurants only (the analysis looked at restaurants, bars and fast food as separate categories) compared to a 1.5% increase in water usage in non-program participants.
The analysis also showed that the total of Blue participants showed a 5% decrease in water consumption compared to non-participants’ 1.2% increase.
Norman Scholz, general manager and part-owner of The Globe, said when they joined the program, it was of no cost to the restaurant. After signing the initial form stating The Globe would follow the certificated water conservation initiatives, the water department provided the faucet heads and sprayer needed post-evaluation for free.
The Globe has been certified Blue since 2016, and although it hasn’t made a huge difference in their wallets, Scholz said the leak detection has been a benefit of the program.
In addition to infrastructure changes, the certification also requires restaurants to implement an educational component about the importance of conserving water, such as kids menus and signage around the restaurant where water is mostly used. Laurie Loftin said children’s menus are one of the more popular education tools. Jamey Loftin said he chose to give new hires an employee packet with tips on how to conserve water.
Laurie Loftin said overall, Athens is dropping in gallons per capita, which is a national trend. She said this is probably because people are becoming more aware of how they use water and the increase of water efficiency products available. She’s happy to see people using water wisely.
“I think there should be time for a movement to get people really thinking about water and how relevant it is in our everyday life,” Laurie Loftin said. “It’s something we take for granted.”