Chain restaurants are looking closely at their environmental impact, from adding solar to restaurant locations to adopting energy efficient equipment to making demands on the supply chain.

Another trend in the foodservice arena is the proliferation of compostable food packaging.

Foodservice buyers, just the same as retailers, are asking suppliers about aspects of sustainability, said Nichole Towell, marketing development manager at Duda Farm Fresh Foods, Oviedo, Fla.

That’s particularly true for deals under contract, Towell said.

In one example, Bon Appetit Management Co. has set a goal to reduce its supply chain carbon emissions by halving its imported tropical fruit purchases, instead relying on seasonal, regional fruit, according to a news release.

Streamlining efforts

The Palo Alto, Calif., company, which serves up to 80 million meals a year at 400 locations such as corporations, universities and specialty venues, calls its internal purchasing program a “low carbon diet.”

Other foodservice firms are reducing emissions in their own supply chains by revamping trucking fleets.

The Atlanta branch of U.S. Foodservice is fueling its entire fleet of 185 tractor-trailers with biodiesel, a move that it said would reduce emissions by about 788,000 pounds a year.

The firm also has instituted a program to reduce truck idle time, according to a news release.

Sysco Corp. is investigating the use of compressed natural gas to power its fleet.

Because compressed natural gas can propel a truck 50 times as far as conventional fuel, by volume, the company estimates it can save almost 15,000 gallons of fuel per truck by making the conversion.

The conversion process is in the pilot stage in the company’s Utah operations, funded in part by a Department of Energy grant, according to a news release.

Restaurant chains

At least one chain is going for renewable energy in a big way.

Denver-based Chipotle Mexican Grill, for instance, plans to install rooftop solar at 75 locations in the coming year, with the goal of reducing reliance on the grid during the peak operating hours of 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., according to a news release.

Philadelphia-based Aramark Corp., along with the IFMA Foundation, has developed a set of best practices for restaurants and sustainability.

In their report “Sustainability in the Food Service Environment,” the two found that:

  • food preparation consumes 35% of a restaurant’s energy;

  • HVAC uses 28%;

  • sanitation uses 18%;

  • lighting uses 13%; and

  • refrigeration uses 6%.

Aramark suggests restaurants use digital demand controllers to optimize operation of water heaters, refrigeration and other equipment. The use of efficient T8 and T5 fluorescent lighting also is recommended.

Ruby Tuesday and Subway have contracted with Energy Efficiency Systems Group to perform energy retrofits, including changes to HVAC, refrigeration and lighting, at their Hawaiian locations, according to a news release.

In the past year, the Environmental Protection Agency set new standards for commercial refrigerators to gain Energy Star status. Now, they must be 33% more energy efficient than standard models.