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Restaurants serve food with a side of sustainability

At many restaurants around the country, environmental sustainability has become as popular with customers as the food itself.
Illustration: Shutterstock

Consumers are increasingly aware of the impact that food and food waste have on the environment, and they’re asking restaurant brands to reduce the amount that finds its way into landfills, oceans and waterways. At the same time, restaurants want to cut their energy and water use and decrease food waste because it’s good for the bottom line and the environment. Here is how some companies are tackling the issue:

McDonald’s set a goal to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by one-third in the next 10 years.The company expects 100% of its consumer packaging will come from renewable or recycled sources, and that recycling will be available at all restaurants by 2025. Currently, 50% of the company’s packaging comes from sustainable sources, and 10% of its restaurants recycle. In another initiative, McDonald’s is a founding member of the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, a group that works to serve customers more environmentally friendly beef products.

Chipotle Mexican Grill is diverting 50% of its restaurant waste away from landfills by 2020. It also intends to test recyclable and compostable beverage cups and lids, including a strawless version. In addition, the chain plans to reduce the amount of plastic in its cutlery by 20% and will recycle and/or compost at all of its restaurants.

The Melting Pot is taking steps to offer more eco-friendly ingredients at its 105 U.S. restaurants. The casual-dining chain has tapped Cacao-Trace to supply sustainably sourced cocoa for its chocolate fondue. Dairy supplier Kindred Creamery, known for its humane treatment of its dairy-producing animals, makes the cheese for the company’s signature fondue. The Melting Pot also is incorporating more environmentally sustainable practices at its restaurants—including replacing plastic straws with paper versions—to reduce the waste it contributes to landfills.

Wendy’s is putting more controls in place to manage environmental impacts at its stores. At new buildouts, it is installing Energy Star-certified equipment, such as fryers, energy-efficient HVAC systems, refrigerators and ice cube compressors, as well as kiosk-ordering stations that eliminate the need for interior menu boards. The fast-food chain also is encouraging the use of exterior and interior LED lighting, which offers better quality while saving on energy use and utility costs. The company and 17 of its franchisees are participating in the Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Challenge, with the goal to reduce energy use per transaction 20% by 2025.

Arby’s has won awards for sustainability efforts it has implemented over the past eight years. Initiatives at the Atlanta-based chain range from small changes such as turning water heaters down 10 degrees to installing low-flow prerinse sprayers. By creating stickers for equipment to remind employees when to turn each piece on and off—and training them about it—the company saves nearly $1,300 in annual utility costs per store. Big investments include replacing old refrigeration compressors with new, efficient models that achieve 40% energy savings and a return on investment in 1.3 years.

Sodexo, the French foodservice contract management giant, with U.S. headquarters in Gaithersburg, Md., has teamed up with Leanpath to cut food waste at 3,000 of its locations worldwide. Sodexo’s recommitment to roll out WasteWatch powered by Leanpath could reduce waste 50% by 2025.

Learn more at the National Restaurant Association’s Sustainability Executive Study Group Conference, Sept. 10-11, in Washington, D.C.

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