Fast food chains are probably not the first things that come to mind when you think of green dining. However, these fast-food chains are some of the few who have successfully pursued LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification by the U.S. Green Building Council. LEED is an internationally recognized certification when a building achieves high standards for energy savings, water efficiency, emissions reduction and other environmental attributes.
Only 38 restaurants have received LEED certification with 40 percent of those being chain restaurants. For many of these large chain organizations, LEED certification is a fairly cost-efficient way for companies not associated with green concepts to exercise their corporate social responsibilities in sustainable initiatives.
First on the list: the Subway sandwich chain currently has one LEED certified restaurant in Chapel Hill, N.C. "We believe that building stores in an environmentally responsible way is a good business practice," says Subway's public relations specialist Les Winograd.
Arby's currently has one LEED-certified green building, in Magnolia, Texas. Arby's green representative Cathie Koch says, "We built the first LEED restaurant because it is smart in design and a smart way to do business.... Saving energy and conserving water results in reduced utility costs."
McDonald's now owns two LEED-certified green restaurants – one in Chicago, Ill., and the other in Cary, N.C. "McDonald's is a great example of a company which, like many other organizations in the past few years, has implemented corporate social responsibility, including concern for the environment," says Marie Coleman of the U.S. Green Buildings Council.
McDonald's has been in the news for ceasing, under coercion, the use of Styrofoam food containers and, again under pressure, improving the conditions in which chickens destined to be McNuggets are raised, but they are still a favorite target of food and environmental activists, who consider the chain as the epitome of the ways America's food system is skewed.
Not surprisingly, Starbucks is the king of the green chain stores with nine LEED-certified Starbucks locations. The coffee company actually helped the U.S. Green Building Council establish standards for "volume-build" restaurants.
Starbucks is pursuing LEED certification because, says Jim Hanna, director of environmental impact, "we have a commitment to reduce our environmental impact. We also realize that operating sustainably absolutely makes good business sense."
Dunkin' Donuts has one LEED-certified restaurant in St. Petersburg, Fla., - the first designated green city in the country. As opposed to the typical coffee shop, this location has an earthworm casting facility that houses 80 pounds of earthworms charged with eating food waste, and turning it into compost suitable for use in the garden. The store also donates leftover baked goods to a local shelter, cutting down on waste before it's made.
Vaughn Lazar, owner of Pizza Fusion has established five LEED-certified locations in Florida and Georgia. Lazar requires that all owners pursuing a Pizza Fusion franchises adhere to U.S. Green Building Council standards, regardless of whether they pursue LEED certification.
He admits that the process can be difficult. "It's extra work, but you're prepared to do that because you believe in the benefits of it. There are huge benefits you can be more energy efficient which really helps your bottom line. It's just a smart choice."
The Gurnee, Ill., branch of Chipotle was the chain's first restaurant to achieve platinum LEED-certified green status. Since then, the chain has opened two additional certified-green branches. Among the sustainable actions are the use of recycled plywood, stainless steel and drywall; the use of low-VOC paints and sealants to reduce indoor air pollution; and the installation of tankless water heaters to cut down on energy costs.
Not known as a chain restaurant, or typical fast food, Xoco is master chef Rick Bayless's mansion of Mexican street food. In 2009, Xoco opened its doors and was immediately awarded LEED-Gold certification by the U.S. Green Building Council.
The building features a rooftop garden and wood harvested from Forest Stewardship Council-certified forests.
The Chicago, Ill. location boasts many organic ingredients incorporated into "contemporary expressions of Mexico's most beloved street food and snacks" in a "quick-service cafe." This brings new meaning to the term “green burrito.”
News Source: San Francisco Chronicle