There's far more than sizzle to Chipotle and Wendy's environmental moves

Working Lunch: Both of their newly announced initiatives add up to sound long-term business decisions.

Chipotle and Wendy’s both announced major initiatives last week to lessen the brands’ stress on the environment.  But don’t think the moves are mere posturing to appease the hemp-underwear set, advised the co-hosts of the Working Lunch political podcast.

“None of it came off as political. None of it came off as PR,” said Joe Kefauver, a principal in the Orlando-based government affairs consultancy Align Public Strategies. “These are business decisions for the long-term.”

He and co-host/business partner Franklin Coley noted that both initiatives are too ambitious to be sloughed off as amped-up noise about minor moves.

Chipotle committed to using electricity-powered kitchen equipment in 100 stores, starting with several units that have already switched to grills fueled by electricity. As Coley observed, the grills behind Chipotle’s production line are a focal point for customers, “a part of the experience.” Chefs and cooks say electric grills don’t heat up as fast or regulate temperatures as precisely as gas versions do.

Yet Chipotle has committed to making electric grills work because gas-fired kitchen equipment is suspected of being a contributor to asthma and other respiratory ailments. Gas extraction from the earth is also believed to be riskier for the environment than the generation of electricity.

“It’s good for business,” said Kefauver.

The adoption of electric-powered equipment also puts Chipotle in good stead if bans of gas-powered commercial kitchens should catch hold, as they have for residential facilities. Several municipalities have prohibited the installation of gas-fired ovens and stoves, in newly constructed homes, as has the state of New York.

Wendy’s, meanwhile, revealed plans for such unglamorous environmental moves as using greener packaging and lessening the ecological strain its supply chain imposes. The steps are far from the glitzy but largely empty environmental steps that other brands have embraced with hoopla to appease their critics, noted Kefauver.

To hear more about the models Chipotle and Wendy’s have set, and get an update on legislative proposals aimed at the restaurant business, download this week’s and every episode of the politically focused podcast.

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