WASHINGTON – The pilot of Greener Restaurants, a new, national program to recognize restaurants’ environmental sustainability efforts, has been launched by the National Restaurant Association (N.R.A.). A limited number of restaurants have signed on to participate in the pilot before it’s opened to industry-wide participation in the next few months.

Greener Restaurants will show operators how to save money while “going greener” and share their successes with guests, according to the N.R.A. Environmentally sustainable practices are important to today’s consumers, association research shows. Four out of 10 say they are likely to make a restaurant choice based on a restaurant’s conservation practices. And restaurants are responding: 40% of full-service restaurants and 31% of quick-service restaurants plan to devote more resources to green initiatives in 2010, N.R.A. said.

“We listened to what our members have told us they wanted: a flexible, effective and affordable program to help them do the right thing for the planet and for their business, and worked closely with them to develop the program,” said Dawn Sweeney, N.R.A. president and chief executive officer. “As we perfect the final program details in the pilot stage, we are working with our state restaurant association partners to introduce it industry-wide.”

Helping restaurant operators save money and manage costs while incorporating sustainability practices throughout the restaurant is the goal of the Greener Restaurants program. The program will also help restaurants market their efforts to “go greener” to guests both onsite and online. It was developed with the input of restaurant operators and partners of the N.R.A. Conserve initiative – the Turner Foundation, Kendall College, Food Service Technology Center and EPA ENERGY STAR.

The program includes a checklist of action items from which participants select areas of focus and build a profile on an interactive Web site (www.GreenerRestaurants.com). The checklist contains both smaller steps, such as using low-energy light bulbs, and larger moves, including equipment and remodeling. The checklist will be accompanied by resources and instructional videos to help the operator implement each practice and report progress.

Online profiles will become part of a consumer-oriented web site with a nationwide search engine that will be part of the public launch of the program later this year.

The Greener Restaurants program is an extension of the N.R.A.’s Conserve: Solutions for Sustainability initiative, which encourages and assists restaurant operators to increase their environmental efforts while preserving – and many times boosting – their bottom line. The Conserve Web site, Conserve.Restaurant.org, provides tips, tools and resources to help restaurants reduce their environmental footprint and increase business.