Margot McNeeley is one of the reasons that going green has turned from trend to lifestyle in the Memphis area. She is the executive director of Project Green Fork, a small organization that has been making a big difference in our community since 2008. PGF came about when Margot, a longtime locavore and friend to many in the restaurant industry, learned that the average restaurant meal produces one-and-a-half pounds of waste, and that 95 percent of restaurant waste could be diverted from the landfill with proper systems in place. In response, Margot joined forces with the staff of her first PGF-certified restaurant, Tsunami, to introduce PGF. In just seven years, the PGF concept has rerouted Memphis’ local dining culture by taking our local food scene in a truly eco-conscious direction. Welcome, Margot!
Have you always called Memphis home?
I moved to Memphis 22 years ago to open BookStar at Poplar Plaza. I met some great people and eventually my husband, and I never left! I’ve lived in Massachusetts, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Florida, Texas and Arizona, but I knew I was home when I reached Memphis, TN.
Briefly describe the PGF mission (PGF: 101).
When I learned that an average restaurant meal produces one-and-a-half pounds of waste and that 95 percent of restaurant waste could be diverted from the landfill with proper systems in place, I decided to try to do something about it. I came up with six steps that would have a huge impact on a restaurant’s carbon footprint and wouldn’t break the bank to do. They are:
- Use products that are one of the following: compostable, biodegradable, recyclable or made from recycled content. No polystyrene (aka Styrofoam) can be used anywhere.
- Recycle all items that are recognized as recyclable by Project Green Fork.
- Collect preconsumed fruit, vegetable, coffee grounds and eggshell scraps and other compostable waste.
- Reduce the usage of toxic cleaners wherever possible with plant-based and/or biodegradable cleaners.
- Complete Memphis Light, Gas and Water energy audit to learn how to reduce and conserve vital energy and water.
- Properly maintain grease traps and kitchen hoods to prevent overflows and emissions to sewer and storm drain systems. Ensure kitchen, front-of-house and outside areas are clean and free of debris at all times, including cigarette butts and other outside trash.
Was there a specific event, conversation or personal dining experience that sparked the launch of PGF?
Talking with Tsunami Chef Ben Smith, Colleen Couch-Smith and Colleen’s brother, Andrew Couch, really helped me realize that restaurants were interested and supportive.
What is your favorite part of the PGF process?
I love hearing that people choose the restaurants to support based on the PGF list of certified restaurants. I also really enjoy the numbers! To date, PGF-certified restaurants have kept the following out of the landfill:
- 2,500,000 gallons of plastic, aluminum and glass
- 2,100,000 pounds of paper and cardboard
- 271,000 gallons of food waste
We see 51 certified restaurants listed on the PGF website. What is your newest restaurant recruit?
Maui Brick Oven
A typical daily checklist in the life of Margot McNeeley includes what?
Walk the dogs, do a little yoga, make a protein shake, put on an album, make coffee or tea, go to the office and post on social media something about a PGF-certified restaurant, answer emails and phone messages.
What has been the toughest obstacle as you have developed PGF?
Since the city of Memphis didn’t offer recycling for restaurants, I wasn’t sure how the recycling and composting piece was going to work. Fortunately for PGF and our community, Madeleine Edwards contacted me to say she was interested in recycling, and she eventually started her own business, Get Green Recycling. Madeleine and her team of recyclers are really the unsung heroes in this business. They work hard to make Memphis greener and cleaner.
What are some basic words of wisdom you can offer based on your professional experience?
If you don’t like the way something is done—or not being done—do something about it. And be yourself. If people don’t like you (let’s face it, not everyone is going to), get over it. I have to tell myself this all the time!
What do you like to do when you are not working with PGF?
Travel, read, listen to music, do yoga, go to the movies, hang with my number one man—my husband, visit family and friends and enjoy time with the BEST DOGS EVER: Booker T., Fiona and Cleo.
Do you have any favorite fashion trends or must-have clothing items on your wish list for spring 2015?
I love a good pair of jeans, a great tee and a big, bad, bold, beautiful piece of jewelry by one of my two favorites, Tootsie Bell or Brave. (The necklace Margot is wearing in our photos today is by Brave!)
Are there any events coming up that you are especially looking forward to?
Our biggest fundraiser, Loving Local, is October 4, 2015.
What three lighthearted things could you not live without?
Avocados, puppies and books.
Thank you, Margot, for updating us on the impact of Project Green Fork in the community! What better way for Memphians to rally for Earth Day 2015 on Wednesday, April 22, than to enjoy an inspiring interview with one of Memphis’ “greenest!” Follow PGF on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for more info as the date of their big fall fundraiser approaches. And find out even more about this eco-friendly initiative on the PGF website: projectgreenfork.org