Taking Sustainability to New Heights

February 2021

Chain restaurants have taken major steps in recent years to create a positive impact on the environment. In fact, Technomic reports that safe and green packaging is going to be operators’ primary sustainability initiative over the next two years, and reducing carbon footprints will be their number-one objective in 2023 and beyond. On top of this, the foodservice industry is focusing efforts on larger, comprehensive changes that demonstrate the effect of food on the planet.


To help customers feel good about choosing real and responsibly sourced ingredients, Chipotle launched a digital sustainability tracker. The brand wants to be held accountable for making the world a better place, and consumer awareness is integral to this. The sustainability tracker shows how customers’ orders benefit the environment across five metrics: carbon in the atmosphere, gallons of water saved, improved soil health, organic land supported and antibiotics avoided. Chipotle is the first brand to provide patrons with this kind of “impact information” about its ingredients, data which guests can post on social media.


Restaurants often share the farm-to-table story, but there’s less to talk about related to the food-to-atmosphere journey. To educate consumers on how their food choices impact the climate, Panera Bread is adding a menu callout for climate-friendly foods—the first national chain to do so. The company worked with environmental nonprofit World Resources Institute to calculate the carbon footprints of ingredients, and gives a Cool Food Meal badge to offerings with reduced carbon footprints. Diners have many sustainable options to choose from, as this label applies to more than half of Panera’s entrées.


Packaging is a major source of waste, so three chains are targeting this area for improvement. Taco Bell set a goal to replace all of its packaging with 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable material within the next five years. In select locations, Burger King and McDonald’s are partnering with TerraCycle Loop to use containers that can be cleaned and reused. Patrons who choose this option, which is not required, are charged a small fee, then refunded after they return the container to a drop-off location.


Beyond packaging, restaurants are striving to become zero energy facilities. McDonald’s opened its first net zero energy restaurant, which means the location creates enough renewable energy to cover all of its needs. The venue consists of over 1,000 solar panels, plant-covered walls and low-flow plumbing fixtures. McDonald’s is seeking the International Living Future Institute’s Zero Energy Certification with this operation, the first restaurant in the world to do so. While drive thru and delivery are the only services currently available, once the dining room opens, customers can learn about the renewable energy features and use stationary bikes to generate power that keeps the golden arches glowing. This is all part of the chain’s wider initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 36% before 2030.


It’s the little things that add up, and none so more than when it comes to the environment. By taking these steps to increase sustainability, operators can reassure customers that when they order from a restaurant, they’re making a difference.


Is your operation taking steps toward sustainability? Share them with us on Facebook or LinkedIn. To keep up with the latest industry happenings, check out our Resource Center.


Kelso, Alicia. New McDonald's flagship runs 100% on renewable energy, Restaurant Dive, July 2020.
Lalley, Heather. Chipotle adds a sustainability tracker for digital orders, Restaurant Business, October 2020.
Maze, Jonathan. Burger King will test reusable containers in the U.S. next year, Restaurant Business, October 2020.
Maze, Jonathan. McDonald’s to start testing reusable cups, Restaurant Business, September 2020.
Top 5 Sustainability Initiatives in 2021-2022, Technomic, November 2020.
Top 5 Sustainability Initiatives in 2023 and Beyond, Technomic, November 2020.
Toussaint, Kristin. Taco Bell says it will make all its packaging recyclable, compostable, or reusable by 2025, Fast Company, January 2020.
Zhang, Jenny. Panera Adds Eco Friendly Badges to Denote Low Carbon Footprint Menu Items, Eater, October 2020.

Find Your Broker

Find Your Broker