Restaurants Serving Up Sustainability Solutions Can Help People, Planet and Profits

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Restaurants Serving Up Sustainability Solutions Can Help People, Planet and Profits

by Roger McClendon

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.@YumBrands' Roger McClendon on #sustainability as a core value in the restaurant industry
Thursday, May 28, 2015 - 3:00pm

McClendon is chief sustainability officer for Louisville-based Yum! Brands, parent company of KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell and one of the 2014 top 100 Corporate Citizens by Corporate Responsibility Magazine. Yum! Brands is also listed on the 2014 Newsweek Green Rankings and participates annually in the Carbon Disclosure Project.

Imagine strolling into your favorite restaurant. You probably walk through the door focused on what food to order, which table to take and how much it will all cost. Yet there is actually a lot going on behind the scenes you may have no idea about and it affects the future of the planet.

Many restaurants are looking to reduce their environmental footprint. You may be surprised to learn that environmental sustainability actually ranks as the third top trend out of 198 according to a new survey from the National Restaurant Association and the American Culinary Federation. Four out of ten survey respondents thought environmental sustainability would be the hottest menu trend a decade from now.

Reducing energy consumption is a key part of green building design. Restaurants use a lot of energy due to their relatively small size with nearly continuous cooking, ventilation and refrigeration. Many are open long hours or even operate 24-7 and have heavy foot traffic from customers.  Reducing energy consumption helps the environment and also saves costs which helps improve profitability too. Looking at all aspects of sustainable building innovation including energy savings, water conservation, sensible material use, sites and interior environments is vital to reducing a restaurant’s environmental footprint.

The restaurant industry is making headway, but still has far to go. For example, palm oil, a globally traded commodity used in many different products from cooking oil to cookies, is commonly produced in ways that involve the destruction of tropical forests and peat lands. The good news is that palm oil can be produced without deforestation—and many companies, including Yum! Brands, have begun to make public commitments to use deforestation-free palm oil in their products. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) is asking consumers to tell restaurant companies that deforestation is an unacceptable ingredient in their products. I couldn’t agree more.

I would argue that environmental sustainability is no longer a fad in the industry. It’s becoming the way restaurant companies are operating to benefit customers, employees, shareholders and the planet. In optimizing how restaurateurs can be more efficient and minimize environmental impact though innovation, powerful business cases can be created to become more environmentally responsible, raise social consciousness and reduce expenses. 

We are a case in point. Last year alone our restaurant teams’ energy-saving efforts enabled us to save more than 530 million kilowatt hours around the globe.  Since 2009, we’ve eliminated the release of almost 1.2 million metric tons of CO2 as a result of our efforts. That’s like removing 225,000 cars off the road. We have over 30 LEED certified restaurants built or underway across nine countries, which gives us the opportunity to have a positive impact on the environment in not only energy but in other categories such as water conservation, materials use, site sensitivity and the wellbeing of building occupants. One of the ways we are moving to integrate green approaches more broadly is by creating a streamlined roadmap to LEED for our design and construction teams called Blueline. It uses key, restaurant relevant aspects of LEED combined with the proven, actionable solutions of our exploratory buildings in areas such as lighting and optimized hood exhaust.  

In order to succeed in the path to environmental sustainability restaurants must work diligently with vendor partners and seek guidance and counsel consultants and organizations not only to reduce energy consumption, but also help lead the industry to widespread greener practices.  We must use our resources more responsibly and make sustainability in the restaurant industry a reality. The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) is a valued supporter of the development of our green restaurants around the globe. Their 12,000 members work together to transform the building landscape to give people better, brighter, healthier spaces to live, work and play whether that means maximizing energy efficiency in older, existing building structures or providing a sound framework for constructing a holistic green restaurant. We are also working with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Building Alliance and the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) to both promote energy efficiency and find even more ways to reduce our carbon footprint.

Sustainability is not just a word to me, it’s a core value and I challenge you, as customers and as leaders to look holistically at the industry to make the largest impact – ensuring that each year you are doing more for the planet than the last.

The next time you walk into your favorite restaurant remember to think beyond the menu. Consider if they are on a path to reduce their environmental footprint.

Keywords: Environment & Climate Change | Business & Trade | Corporate Social Responsibility | Energy | Environment & Climate Change | Ethical Production & Consumption | KFC | Roger McClendon | Taco Bell | Yum! Brands | csr