As a small, independent restaurant, replacing all the equipment at once would have put a serious financial strain on Croc's. Instead, Habr remains committed to replacing older equipment as it reaches the end of its lifespan with
energy-efficient models. After an air conditioner went out recently, the restaurant switched to a more energy-efficient option, and Habr continues to research new Energy Star-rated products on the market. In addition, the restaurant replaced lighting throughout the space with LED bulbs, and instituted an on-off, task-only schedule for both lighting and equipment to further save energy.
"Early on in our first year of doing these things we saved a couple hundred dollars per month on our power bill and it has since increased," she says.
Water savings is especially important in an area where Chesapeake Bay waters remain strongly protected against dumping and overuse. Educating the staff on the importance of saving energy and water is also part of the effort. "We always ask during our staff meetings if there are any leaky faucets — it's become somewhat of a joke," says Habr.
After earning a renewable energy rebate through Virginia's Solar Program, Croc's was able to be the first full-service restaurant in the state to install a solar hot water heater, Habr says. The system, which includes two big tanks set in the back of the restaurant next to the regular hot water tanks, runs on energy gathered by solar panels. In the case of inclement weather, the system taps into the restaurant's natural gas supply for power.
"By law we have to have hot water so we had to go with a backup system — that's what makes restaurants different than other businesses," says Habr.
Habr calls her mission and menu S.O.L., which stands for Sustainable. Organic. Local. As part of a personal and professional commitment to serving sustainably raised, grown and supplied food, Habr designed her menu with some Mediterranean influences as a way to showcase the bounty of the Virginia area and Chesapeake Bay, working with farmers within a 50-mile radius.
Sustainable seafood is also an important part of the S.O.L. mission. Habr abides by the Monterey Bay Seafood's watch list for endangered species to create her 100 percent sustainable seafood menu, and the restaurant partnered with the local Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center to be a part of the center's Sensible Seafood Program, one that works with local restaurants and other foodservice outlets to serve only sustainably sourced fish and shellfish.
The restaurant also features a prominent bar, with handcrafted cocktails made with homemade tinctures, syrups and herbs from Croc's kitchen garden. Croc's also remains committed to showcasing local and organic spirits, wines and craft beers. On Thursdays during Happy Hour, the bar hosts the Virginia Beach outpost of Green Drinks that Habr started. The weekly meet-up and networking opportunity for sustainability-focused people and professionals goes on in other locations throughout the country.
What started as a simple herb garden, the kitchen garden has grown in just a couple years to include 10 raised boxes for growing tomatoes, kale, carrots and a variety of lettuces.
Habr's husband has taken a liking to tending the garden, and plans to grow additional herbs and vegetables this season. To showcase this limited supply, Croc's includes the homegrown items in specials and other vegetable-focused dishes. A local farmer helped the restaurant set up the garden.
During the summer months, Croc's hosts the Old Beach Farmers Market on Saturdays in the parking lot. Since 2008, the market has grown from just a handful of farmers to between two and three dozen vendors, including a vibrant array of vegetable farmers, local ranchers and fisheries. While the market is open to the public, Croc's purchases a large supply of produce, meats, fish and other products from these farmers.
"Sometimes we have pre-orders, but other times our chefs will just walk the market and if something looks good to them they will buy it," Habr says. "Because we are not a corporate-owned business we don't have a rigid structure and we can do that."
As a restaurant and hospitality advisor for Greener Results Virginia, LLC, a sustainable consulting firm, Laura Habr helped found the Green Jobs Hospitality Academy in partnership with Virginia Tech and the Green Jobs Alliance, a nonprofit formed by renewable energy industries and labor organizations dedicated to providing education, job training and placement and career development in the green sector.
The Green Jobs Academy offers a series of workshops and educational programs to help create environmentally friendly career opportunities and encourage green practices and energy efficiency in the hospitality, construction and agriculture industries. The academy's workshops also provide direction for business owners, employees and consumers in adopting more sustainable practices, including the use of technologies to identify new sources of management, marketing, research, product development and sales in this sector.
The academy's four educational tracks targeting different industries include: Track 1: Energy Efficiency; Track 2: Green Hospitality & Tourism Training; Track 3: Sustainable Agriculture; and Track 4: Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED®)
Virginia Green is a partnership program between Virginia DEQ, Virginia Tourism Corporation (VTC) and the Virginia Hospitality & Travel Association (VHTA) to promote practical solutions for pollution prevention, resource conservation and other sustainable initiatives in all sectors of Virginia’s tourism industry, including restaurants and foodservice. Nearly 1,400 Virginia hotels, attractions, conference centers, festivals, wineries, museums and other tourism-related facilities have joined the program, including more than 210 restaurants.
Virginia Green’s stated main goals include: 1) reduce the environmental impacts of the tourism industry, 2) increase environmental awareness of the industry and its customers and 3) make the tourism industry more profitable through employment of green practices.
The program outlines a set list of expectations for all businesses, including restaurants and hotels in order to meet energy efficiency and other green requirements necessary for Virginia Green self-certification and national recognition as a leader in this field.
Hotels are expected to achieve 15 million gallons of reduced water consumption along with 100 million pounds of reduced C02 emissions and 3,500 tons of reduced solid waste generation. Restaurants have similar requirements for food waste reduction, recycling and/or composting, grease recycling, and water and energy conservation.
Those that meet those expectations are able to display their Virginia Green certification on signage throughout their business as well as on their website and social media outlets for enhanced marketing opportunities.