09/23/2010 01:49 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Fast Food, Sustainably

The Wagyu beef filets served up daily at New York's Kobe Club were some globetrotting bovines. Most of the Wagyu served at ritzy steakhouses like the Kobe Club begin their journey in Japan, where the cows are fed on beer and frequently massaged. From there, the Wagyu lands in California before hopping a cargo flight to New York. From farm to filet, these sides of beef have traveled over 7,000 miles, each step adding to a princely $150 per pound price tag.

Wagyu isn't the poster steak for sustainability, but hundreds of other restaurants are working to reduce carbon emissions by shortening transportation chains and supportting local communities. One of those innovators is Stephan Boillon, whose solar-powered fast food cart provides big flavor without a big environmental impact. Boillon is a successful example of a growing wave in restaurant and fast food sustainability initiatives.

The National Restaurant Association launched the Conserve Initiative, a collective of small restaurants working together to make the industry more eco-conscious. But the initiative isn't all about small business. Take Sodexo, the food service giant that serves 50 million consumers a day. Sodexo recently announced initiatives in Massachusetts and Rhode Island to draw more of their school lunch items from local sources.

Not every restaurant has to retool their supply chain in order to make a difference. One Culver's store turned pennies into dollars through commonsense improvements like fixing leaking faucets and making sure lights are turned off after hours. The faucets alone saved Culver's over $1,200 per year - enough to afford a heater upgrade. Culver's is the first restaurant in America to heat their water using leftover cooking oil.

This week, Planet Forward is examining the ways restaurants are moving towards energy innovation, and the impact on both their earnings and their communities. Do you know of any restaurants near you that deserve a mention? Join the discussion at Planet Forward.