How does a multi-unit company decrease its environmental footprint? Darden Restaurants set ambitious goals in 2009 to reduce energy and water use at its 1,500 restaurants. At the end of 2015, the operator of the Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, Bahama Breeze, Seasons 52, Eddie V's Prime Seafood, The Capital Grille and Yard House chains met and even exceeded those goals. Here’s how:
“Make sure whatever you do is cost effective,” sustainability manager Kristine Young says. “You have to prove the financial savings will be more than what it costs to install, implement and maintain. Any changes you make should be almost invisible. You don’t want them to affect your employees or impact your guests, food or service.”
What did that mean for Darden? Young explains:
Light your way to energy efficiency
Darden aimed to reduce energy usage systemwide by 15 percent. The end result: It cut the amount by 17 percent per restaurant. It shifted to a new state-of-the-art LED lighting system, installed solar-powered hot-water heaters and looked at energy-management systems to ensure everything runs efficiently – right down to the HVAC units. Tip: Test new technology, systems or programs at a few units to make sure the changes don’t disrupt operations or the guest experience.
Fill up on water savings
The company aimed to reduce water usage by 15 percent, but ended up decreasing the amount by 23 percent. How? It installed efficient irrigation systems at the restaurants so they used only minimal amounts of water for landscaping. It also rolled out new pasta cookers that use significantly less water and installed solar-powered hot water heaters in some locations. “That helped from a cost perspective as well as an environmental one.”
Divert food waste
When Darden audited its food waste, it found that 40 percent was organic material. So it looked for ways to meet a long-term zero-waste goal. Thanks to recycling and food donation through the Darden Harvest program, the company diverts 29 percent of its organic waste away from landfills. Young says the company is looking to improve on those results. “The real question – and not just for Darden, but all foodservice businesses – is how do we work with community partners to find broader solutions? What infrastructure is available to us?”
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