Surprisingly Sustainable Restaurants
When you think of sustainable dining, you probably don't think of fast food. And yet, these fast-food chains are some of the few who have successfully pursued LEED certification by the U.S. Green Building Council. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is an internationally recognized certification that a building meets high standards for energy savings, water efficiency, emissions reduction and other environmental attributes.
So far, only 38 restaurants have received LEED certification and a shocking 40% of those are chain restaurants. For many of these large chain organizations, LEED certification is a relatively cost-efficient way for not particularly green companies to flex their corporate social responsibility muscles.
One surprise on the list: sandwich chain Subway currently has one LEED certified restaurant in Chapel Hill, N.C. "We believe that building stores in an environmentally responsible way is a good business practice," says Subway's public relations specialist Les Winograd.
Read on for more surprisingly green fast-food chain restaurants.
Arby's currently has one LEED-certified green building, in Magnolia, Texas. Says Arby's green representative Cathie Koch, "We built the first LEED restaurant because it is smart in design and a smart way to do business.... Saving energy and conserving water results in reduced utility costs."
Of course, in the case of Arby's and that of the other fast-food chains on this list one building might not balance out thousands of other wasteful neon-shimmering buildings, plentiful unhealthy food or wasteful packaging. But ... it's a start.
McDonald's can boast about two LEED-certified green restaurants in Chicago, Ill., and Cary, N.C. "McDonald's is a great example of a company which, like many other organizations in the past few years, has implemented corporate social responsibility, including concern for the environment," says Marie Coleman of the U.S. Green Buildings Council. McDonald's has made news for stopping, under pressure, the use of Styrofoam food containers and, again under pressure, improving the conditions in which chickens destined to be McNuggets are raised, but they are still a favorite target of food and environmental activists, who hold up the chain as the embodiment of the ways America's food system has gone awry.
There are currently 9 LEED-certified Starbucks stores, making Starbucks the king of the green chain store. The coffee company actually helped the U.S. Green Building Council establish standards for "volume-build" restaurants that's restaurants with more than one location.
Starbucks is pursuing LEED certification because, says Jim Hanna, director of environmental impact, "we have a commitment to reduce our environmental impact. We also realize that operating sustainably absolutely makes good business sense."
Now if only Starbucks could find a solution to the disposable coffee cup.
Dunkin' Donuts has one LEED-certified restaurant in St. Petersburg, Fla., the first designated green city in the country. Unlike the typical coffee shop, this location has an earthworm casting facility that houses 80 pounds of earthworms charged with eating food waste, and turning it into compost suitable for use on the garden. The store also donates leftover baked goods to a local shelter, cutting down on waste before it's made. But Dunkin' Donuts also is responsible for the waste cups (many of them Styrofoam, which is hard to recycle) from nearly 1 billion cups of coffee sold annually.
Pizza Fusion owner Vaughn Lazar owns five LEED-certified locations in Florida and Georgia. And he requires that anyone pursuing a Pizza Fusion franchise (the chain has locations in five others states) adhere to U.S. Green Building Council standards, regardless of whether they pursue LEED certification.
He admits that the process can be difficult. "It's extra work, but you're prepared to do that because you believe in the benefits of it. There are huge benefits you can be more energy efficient which really helps your bottom line. It's just a smart choice."
The Gurnee, Ill., branch of Chipotle was the chain's first restaurant to achieve platinum LEED-certified green status. Since then, they chain has opened two additional certified-green branches. And Chipotle has incorporated lessons from those projects across its growing empire of fast-food restaurants. Among the innovations are the use of recycled plywood, stainless steel and drywall; the use of low-VOC paints and sealants to reduce indoor air pollution; and the installation of tankless water heaters to cut down on energy costs.
While Chipotle is celebrated for its use of healthy, fresh and often local and organic ingredients (the goal is to use 50% local produce this year), it did settle a labor controversy in 2009 by boosting Florida tomato pickers' wages by 64%.
While it may not be a chain restaurant, or typical fast food, Xoco is master chef Rick Bayless's mecca of Mexican street food, and it is green. It opened in 2009 and was awarded LEED-Gold certification by the U.S. Green Building Council.
The building features a rooftop garden and wood harvested from Forest Stewardship Council-certified forests.
The Chicago, Ill. location boasts many organic ingredients incorporated into "contemporary expressions of Mexico's most beloved street food and snacks" in a "quick-service cafe." In other words, fast food. But green.
Red Stag Supper Club
Another independent restaurant with LEED certification: Red Stag Supper Club, in Minneapolis, MN.
Owner Kim Bartmann says, "I chose to do the LEED certification because we had been 'greening' our other businesses ... through local buying of food and other things, and using organics, for quite some time. Construction of a new space seemed to be a great area in which we could explore different, more sustainable ways of doing things. It turned out to be an excellent 'business' decision, The Stag opened using 70% less water than a typical restaurant, and 50% less energy -- greatly reducing our operating costs. Also, we continually get new business and interest form folks who are interested in being more green themselves." Plus, she adds, "the LEED certification brings in customers!"
Washington, DC, restaurant Founding Farmers is a Gold LEED-certified restaurant that practices what it calls "sustainable business." According to marketing representative Jennifer Resnick Williams, this means business that "shows respect for the planet and the community."
Sustainable business extends to their waste management system, too -- they compost all food scraps.
Boomarang Bistro and Bar
Singapore restaurant Boomarang Bistro and Bar is the only LEED-certified restaurant outside of North America. They serve Australian cuisine in a light, area and green space. The restaurant's owners worked with the Surbana consulting firm to design a building that would meet LEED specifications.
The space features a wooden floor recycled from an old Malaysian ship deck and furniture supplied by a FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) and Rainforest Alliance certified distributor.