American fast food is famous for fattening, poor quality and convenience at any cost. Most people don’t equate fast food with terms such as “green,” “sustainability” or “eco-friendly.” As the green movement has crept into almost every area of popular culture, it has finally made its way to fast food nation.
Chipotle's LEED Silver restaurant in Gurnee, IL. Image courtesy of Chipotle.
A tide is turning in fast food establishments and quick-service restaurants (QSRs) throughout the country. Some of the changes are localized to particular regions of the country, while others are taking a nationwide progression toward sustainability and green practices. Supporting these establishments has never been more important. The more sustainable, green fast food and QSRs are supported, the more the green message will reach the ears of the CEOs and executives in these industries. The most popular way fast food and QSRs become sustainable is by purchasing locally grown produce and meats. For example, Chipotle and Sellers Market (a San Francisco-based artisan kitchen) both use locally harvested food in their menu items. This is clearly a growing trend nationwide. Based on a survey conducted by the National Restaurant Association, more than 1,200 chefs voted that locally grown produce is the runner-up in the most popular trends for restaurants. Other aspects of green fast food have to do with recycling options, packaging and energy conservation. Chipotle has opened a super-sustainable location in Gurnee, IL, that puts all other fast food restaurants to shame. The location makes a huge statement with its 6kW wind turbine behind the establishment. The walls in the building are made from recycled drywall and recycled barn metal and the building equipment used was Energy Star rated. All lights are LEDs, and the bathrooms are equipped with efficient faucets and toilets. Kind of makes you wish this trend would catch on a bit faster. Evos is another big brother in the sustainable fast food industry, showing others the way. Evos, established in Florida in the early 1990s, has grown to locations in California, North Carolina and Georgia. This fast food establishment does more than just serve healthier foods — it takes a holistic approach to sustainability. The company offsets one-third of the energy in the stores with wind energy, and energy-efficient materials are used to construct the stores. Evos supports certified organic and fair trade ingredients, prints paper products on recycled paper with soy ink and offers vegetarian menu options. Better Burger NYC is another fast food establishment you should take a look at. The company has a growing presence in New York, which means it will most likely find its way to middle America quickly. This restaurant stands out because all the meat is antibiotic-, hormone- and nitrate-free and everything is 100% meat. There are no fillers used in anything. The French fries are baked, not fried; the oils used are pure, natural oils (not hydrogenated); the buns are organic; the shakes are made from soy milk; and the smoothies are 85% organic. One company that is serving to provide oversight to restaurants that want an official stamp of green approval is the Green Restaurant Association. The Green Restaurant Association exists to certify fast food and QSRs with a green certification if they meet certain sustainable and green criteria. The company aims uses an 11-step process to ensure a restaurant is green. Those steps are:
  • Energy efficiency and conservation
  • Water efficiency and conservation
  • Recycling and composting
  • Sustainable food
  • Pollution prevention
  • Recycled, tree-free, biodegradable and organic products
  • Chlorine-free paper products
  • Nontoxic cleaning and chemical products
  • Green power
  • Green building and construction
  • Education
It’s about time the fast food industry took a turn for improvement. Research green food establishments in your neck of the woods and begin supporting their efforts. Every green burger you purchase is making an impact on consumer wants and trends. You no longer have to feel guilty craving a burger and fries, because now you can buy ones that are good for your health and the environment.