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  • Writer's pictureVeronica Irwin

Yelp’s eco-friendly labels help users find sustainable businesses

New business attribute labels signal if a business has vegan options, an EV charger or offers plastic-free packaging.


Earth Day is coming up on April 22, and companies are already unleashing a blizzard of virtue signals. Amazon is helping users plant trees, while Pinterest moved to limit climate disinformation.

On Wednesday, Yelp joined them. The company is rolling out a series of eco-friendly business attribute labels to help users find restaurants and shops that meet their environmental standards.

The labels cover a variety of topics tied to sustainability. User searches for whether a business serves plant-based options or has an EV charger have increased 56% and 41% respectively between 2018 and 2021, the company said, so it created labels for these attributes to make it easier to find places that offer them up. Other labels indicate whether customers are permitted to bring in reused take-out containers and if they can expect reusable utensils or plastic-free packaging.

“The new Yelp sustainability attributes will allow people to more easily find eateries, bars, and cafes that are plastic free and support our values of thriving communities and a healthy, livable planet,” Dianna Cohen, co-founder and CEO of Plastic Pollution Coalition, said in a Yelp blog post. Yelp partnered with the coalition, which includes more than 1,200 organizations and businesses across 75 countries, to create the new labels.

The company first announced it was looking into consumer preferences in 2019, in a campaign it called the “Green Practices Initiative.” The program began with surveying customers for their shopping preferences, asking whether they noticed a restaurant provided single-use plastics. Yelp said at the time it would have decided what to do with the data by the following year, but things appear to have taken a bit longer than expected.

Yelp's labels are a nice feature, but whether they make a dent in how its users make choices or how businesses operate is another issue entirely. For one, the restaurant business is fast-paced, and take-out utensil preferences aren’t always a top priority. Basically anyone who’s ordered takeout has run into the experience where they’ve asked for plastic utensils, and not received them, or vice versa. Some restaurants change how they deliver takeout depending on what containers, utensils and straws are cheap and available. In San Francisco, for example, plastic straws are banned — but any San Franciscan can tell you that some restaurants still use plastic when there are supply chain issues or plastic straws are easier to find.

That’s not to say the initiative is a bust. After all, any step toward sustainability is better than nothing. But what's clear is that the world needs actual regulations that reduce the production of plastic in the first place. There are a number of possibilities on that front, ranging from bans on single-use plastic that are actually enforced to forcing companies manufacturing plastic to deal with clean up.

Maine passed a bill last year requiring plastic producers to pay for recycling rather than putting the onus on people, while California also passed one that will ban misleading recycling labels. Stringent enforcement could make Yelp's labels a little less necessary on the plastic front, though it still sure is nice to know where exactly you can charge an EV these days (outside your local Starbucks, of course).

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