AS WORRIES ABOUT GLOBAL WARMING AND ECOLOGICAL imbalances compound consumers’ budgetary woes over the nation’s costly dependence on nonrenewable fuel, wary foodservice operators are striving to make the resurgent “green” movement pay dividends for their companies and the planet.
In this special section, Nation’s Restaurant News presents a wide range of penetrating insights into operators’ efforts to quell the inherent conflicts between environmental protectionism and profit enhancement.
NRN’s editors went in search of green strategies and real-world tactics being employed by forward-looking and opportunistic foodservice operators.
We found them, but we also found newly emerging environmental initiatives that will continue to challenge the coping skills of restaurant businesses.
One such development stems from the implementation of landmark regulations to curb grill smoke emissions in Southern California, giving rise to the proposed emulation of those stringent and expensive rules in other jurisdictions.
We also found an increased morphing of the buy-local movement—once a chef-driven trend featuring peak-of-season regional foodstuffs—into a broader push to curb pollution by reducing food distribution distances.
Another finding was a budding effort among upscale restaurateurs to charge diners money for tap water that has been specially purified—with the hoped-for payoff coming from patrons’ appreciation that they’re keeping empty bottles out of landfills and transportation emissions out of the atmosphere.
This series of articles also delves into the sticky situation of fat and grease discharge problems and related governmental sanctions. Another story examines the cost reductions some restaurants are enjoying by having the upstart biofuel industry haul away their used frying oil.
Also looked at in depth is the conundrum posed by the rising food commodity costs and potential shortages that are linked to the rapid ascent of corn-based ethanol as a renewable, albeit controversial, energy source.
Considered, too, are the reasons some restaurants pay more for their electricity in order to subsidize the development of wind farms and river-driven turbines, even though those eateries are unable to tap such nonpolluting sources directly.
Practical and simple green techniques, such as the savings of waste paper achieved by furnishing all workers with their own coffee mugs, also found their way onto the radar screens of NRN’s reporting team. So did the emerging crop of third-party certifying organizations that are offering, for a price, to validate restaurants’ claims of Earth-friendly conservation techniques and organic correctness.
Yet the green issue is fast evolving, and the relationship of foodservice to environmentalism remains a moving target. Even as NRN’s editors were putting this section to bed, we learned of new developments requiring follow-up coverage.
For example, a just-begun initiative in the United Kingdom is converting rubbish from 11 McDonald’s restaurants into electricity and heating for 130 buildings, including hospitals and theaters. That pilot program is expected to keep more than 1,200 tons of trash out of landfills each year.
Restaurant chains’ commitments to green solutions also are evident in word that the Red Robin Gourmet Burgers & Spirits chain is spending $1 million this year to substitute more Earth-friendly products for those it currently is using.
And the Friendly’s family-dining chain has launched what could become a closed-loop system to fuel its self-distribution arm, using its freshly emptied trucks to haul the restaurants’ used cooking oil to biodiesel reprocessing plants.
If such a potentially bottom-line-boosting undertaking has you turning green with envy, turn the page instead and start considering the things NRN learned your peers are doing to turn “green” into long green.
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