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Natural Awakenings Charlotte

Eating Out? Eat Green Eco-Friendly Restaurants Serve Up Sustainability

by Sandra Murphy

Eating green isn’t limited to salads. It means that sustainable thinking goes into a meal at every stage, from the use of local ingredients and energy savings to recycling and composting waste. Delicious food, served thoughtfully, is the goal of today’s environmentally conscious restaurant. Look first to local mom-and-pop eateries that are doing it right, but there are some chains worth considering, as well.

With more than 25 million cups of wake-up java sold each day, coffee shops have a perfect opportunity to start a good day by example. California-based Green Café Network consults with owners and baristas to reduce the environmental impact of member shops. Efficient equipment, biodegradable cups and renewable products for flooring and tables make the coffee house experience more sustainable, especially when buyers select shade-grown, organic, free-trade beans.

Starbucks Corporation has taken it all a step further by designing a pre-certified Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) prototype store. It features recycled floor tiles, reduced lighting and lower water usage and air conditioning set three degrees higher than usual.

Souplantation & Sweet Tomatoes offers fresh-tossed salads, made-from-scratch soups and hot or cold desserts in their 120 restaurants, where vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free items are offered daily. Reclaimed recyclables come back as takeout containers, towels and napkins. Materials sent out for recycling include glass, paper, aluminum and cardboard. Even garbage is given a new role as part of a chain-wide composting program. Tankless water heaters are in while traditional systems are out and cleaning products are all Green Seal certified.

At Chipotle Mexican Grill, “It’s not just a burrito, it’s a foil-wrapped, handcrafted, local farm-supporting, food culture-changing cylinder of deliciousness,” states the company’s website. In 2010, Chipotle served about 5 million pounds of local farm produce through its 1,000 mostly North American stores. The company-wide 2011 goal is 10 million pounds.

Inside those burritos, 40 percent of the beans are certified organic, resulting in 140,000 fewer pounds of pesticide added to the soil. The romaine lettuce, bell peppers, jalapeño, red onions, oregano and tomatoes come from family-owned farms.

California patrons also enjoy locally grown lemons and avocados.

Chipotle produce typically travels no more than 300 miles to its distribution centers. Short travel time means less fuel burned and fewer greenhouse gases plus fresher, more nutritious food on the plate than what less eco-conscious restaurants provide.

“The environment is the basis of our business; we try to be green in everything,” explains Mike Vroman, a store manager in the St. Louis area. So, for example, “Most of the beef we serve in this area is either from Missouri or Kansas. Even our uniforms are 100 percent organic cotton.”

Because restaurants draw their highest levels of electricity when community demand peaks, Chipotle installed solar panels on 75 of its Texas restaurants, while a wind turbine provides electricity at the Gurnee, Illinois site, reducing midday drain on the grid. The Gurnee site is the first restaurant ever to receive the superior Platinum Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating.

Is it possible to operate a restaurant without a dishwasher, range, hood or oven? Yes, if bowls, straws, cutlery, chopsticks and cups are made from corn or potato starch. Freshii meals are created in biodegradable, all natural, food-safe bags. Custom made, the bags leave a carbon footprint five to seven times smaller than the most energy-efficient dishwasher. Everything taken from the store will readily biodegrade or is easy to recycle.

Even store size is a factor. Freshii founder Matthew Corrin notes, “As we grow, our stores are built smaller, to use less materials, to use greener materials, to consume less energy, to take less from this Earth.” Some Freshii stores are super-efficient, encompassing just 150 square feet.

If a burger, fries and shake dinner evokes guilty pleasure, EVOS removes both the guilt and grease, leaving only pleasurable flavor. The restaurant’s trademark Airfries are better for more than just folks’ arteries. “Our potatoes are air-fried at a high temperature,” explains Jackie Macaluso, community ambassador for EVOS, “so we have no used and reused vats of grease to discard.”

Less noticeable eco-bonuses include zero-VOC paint and flooring, made from sustainable, eco-friendly, raw materials like wood flour, linseed oil, rosin, jute fiber and limestone. The company’s Southeast U.S. locations work to raise awareness that even comfort foods can be greener, healthier and still taste good, and to teach children about healthier eating habits.

Of course, there’s usually a Subway Restaurant around the corner. Long committed to serving fresh food fast, the company recently announced its new LEED-certified eco-edition. With 35,000 franchises in 98 countries, small changes add up to big blessings for the Earth.

The most important thing we can do to go green is to eat green every day.  It serves up the most bang for the buck in healthy sustainability.

Sandra Murphy is a freelance writer at [email protected].

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