Restaurants That Are Good for You and Mother Nature
by Tricia Manzanero
Restaurants rack up one of the most costly environmental bills in the retail world. Fortunately, eateries are going green on more than just their menus.
Sustainability is becoming the smart, new business plan for restaurants across the country. According to Carolyn Dimitri, professor of Food Studies at New York University, these businesses can adopt sustainable practices, develop eco-friendly products, or combine the two. Today's green restaurants are doing just that, designing their own recipes for sustainability. We're not talking about food shops that serve tofu chicken nuggets and wheatgrass shakes. From pizza parlors to burger joints, restaurants are greening up their act with tasty foods at a more affordable environmental price.
Choosing the sustainable road is not a one-way street. "To see large-scale change in our society, if the firms doing it cannot make money it's just not going to go anywhere," says Dimitri. Some Certified Green Restaurants (www.dinegreen.com) save thousands of dollars by cutting energy, water, and waste. They appeal to environmentally concerned Americans who pump more than $11 billion into the organic food industry. By going green, restaurants can often earn green too. "The case in point is you can do it, it is possible, and you can make money doing it," affirms Dimitri. Here's a taste of some eco-friendly mainstream restaurants and chains leading the way for sustainable eateries.
PRET A MANGER:
A SUSTAINABLY CHIC SANDWICH SHOP
At Pret A Manger, diners will discover sumptuous roast beef and Parmesan baguettes, tasty tuna Nicoise salads, and hearty Mediterranean grilled eggplant soups. A "sell by" date sticker, however, may be harder to find. That's because this UK-born sandwich shop skips factory-made products, instead whipping up most of their edibles fresh each day. Since it opened in 1986, Pret's been dedicated to natural ingredients free of preservatives, chemicals, and questionable additives. Today, its shops in the UK, United States, and Hong Kong still follow that initial philosophy. "Historically, Pret has been seen as an ethical business and as a company with a conscience," says Nicki Fisher, Pret A Manger's Head of Sustainability. It's no surprise then that Pret devised a clear, sustainable strategy five years ago to keep "doing the right thing" in a more focused way.
Their eco-friendly plan focuses on six key ingredients: carbon, water, waste, health, sustainable sourcing, and social contributions. By 2012, Pret aims to reduce carbon and water use by ten percent, as well as decrease its landfill waste to zero. When choosing its ingredients, the company weighs criteria like animal welfare, air miles, and biodiversity. Pret brews organic and Fair-Trade coffee, plus serves antibiotic- and hormone-free chicken and turkey raised on family farms. The restaurant's packaging comes from renewable, recyclable sources, and its shops exercise a one-napkin-per-item policy.
Also committed to healthy food, Pret strives to supply their hungry clientele with a range of wholesome options and comprehensive nutritional information. Slim Prets—their scrumptious, reduced-calorie sandwiches—low fat soups, and a variety of fresh, delicious salads are just a few of the healthy edibles on offer.
Charitable contributions complete Pret's sustainable cycle. At the end of the day, Pret donates unsold food to charities that feed the hungry. All of its US establishments are linked to a regional charity, and the company gives over 2.4 million food items to the homeless every year.
Keeping Pret sustainable has not always been easy. For instance, Pret still has 5% left to go before meeting its 2012 carbon reduction goals. Still, the company remains resolute despite these challenges, convinced that green eateries are here to stay. "I believe that in the future, non-eco- friendly restaurants will be the odd ones out," states Fisher.
Pret A Manger is looking ahead in other ways as well. The company continues to expand in the US, opening up more stores soon in New York, Washington, and Chicago. www.pret.com
BETTER FROM BEAN TO BREW
One sustainable certification just isn't enough for Peet's Coffee & Tea. Besides Fair-Trade blends, they also offer Utz Certified, USDA Organic, and Rainforest Alliance-approved roasts. Their rich coffees and teas have been tantalizing consumers since 1966. Nearly fifty years later, their recipe for success remains the same: ensure quality and sustainability from source to cup.
A perfect cup of Peet's coffee starts with their growers. The company has forged close ties with some of the world's top coffee farmers, paying premium prices for their products. These fair wages support growers' livelihoods and allow them to focus on the quality, rather than just the quantity, of their crops.
From there, this high-quality coffee journeys to Peet's LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold-certified roasting plant, one of the first of its kind in the United States. Twenty percent of the building is made from locally or regionally sourced materials. The plant also boasts highly efficient irrigation systems that reduce water usage by 87 percent and incorporates recycled materials like post-roasting coffee chaff in its landscaping mulch. In terms of energy, the facility employs the latest heat exchange and lighting technology, which cuts back on its natural gas consumption. Meanwhile, eco-friendly HVAC systems reduce the plant's greenhouse gas emissions.
In addition to their fair salaries and sustainable practices, Peet's also helps growers provide for themselves. For instance, the company partners with non-profit groups, like TechnoServe (www.technoserve.org), that dedicate themselves to wiping out poverty in developing nations. In Tanzania, TechnoServe teaches poor local farmers the entrepreneurial skills necessary to grow and sell their own quality crops. They then link these growers to Peet's, who in turn pays premium rates for their products. The result is Peet's top-notch Tanzania Kilimanjaro specialty coffee.
Peet's makes it a priority to nourish the communities that grow their coffee. Over the years, they've helped fund Kimssa, a vocational school for underprivileged children in Ethiopia, as well as supported Grounds for Health, a program that provides much-needed medical care to coffee-growing communities in Mexico and Central America.
These sustainable strategies and charitable efforts may not be listed on Peet's store menus in California, Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Washington, yet for decades, their conscientious practices have produced sumptuous coffees and teas that customers can feel good about. www.peets.com