Darden Restaurants, Inc., owner of Red Lobster, Olive Garden, and LongHorn Steakhouse, is taking the first steps in going green. The Orlando-based food purveyor, with over 1400 company-owned restaurants, is implementing a sustainable design program for its facilities with eight slated to complete the transition in 2011. The company's headquarters has already applied for a USGBC LEED Gold certification, and all new restaurants will be built green.
According to a news release, the first restaurant to adopt the new plan is an Olive Garden in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Some of the sustainable features will include natural lighting, low-flow water nozzles for the kitchen, Energy-Star-rated equipment, and recycled building materials.
Although this is a good start, there is much more that goes into sustainability than just the building. For example, Chipotle Mexican Grill is a big restaurant chain that also sees the need for local produce as an integral part of its green program. This chain purchases a minimum of 35% of at least one bulk produce item from local farmers and producers, and expects, over a period of time, to have its supply of lettuce, green bell peppers, jalapeno peppers, and red onions come from 25 local farms to serve its 860-plus restaurants throughout the country.
Starting with each restaurant's building is a terrific measure. However, truly cutting down on one's carbon footprint accounts for all aspects of the supply chain. It's one thing to have a low-flow water nozzle, but it's another to see that the mark of true sustainability comes from cutting down on shipping as well.
Darden is a seven-billion-dollar company with an eye on the bottom line. Whether dining on a "Lobster Lover's Dream," "Texas Tonion" or a "Ravioli di Portobello," going green is good business and it will be interesting to see how far they're willing to reach.
Jonathan A. Schein is the president/CEO of ScheinMedia, publisher of MetroGreenBusiness.com.