Billionaire real-estate developer and environmentalist Trammell S. Crow recently kicked off Earth Day Texas, one of the largest celebrations of its kind in the world. Nearly 60,000 Texans participated in the event, currently in its fourth year, and Crow challenged restaurateurs in Dallas and around the country to take more steps toward sustainability. Restaurants will benefit, he said, by saving money, protecting the environment and pleasing their guests. He talked at length about sustainability with the National Restaurant Association’s Conserve team at the Dallas-based event, April 26-27.
Where does your interest in sustainability come from?
I work on various civic activities, but the biggest project we have is a nonprofit organization called Earth Day Texas. We have had four shows now; this year is our fourth. Being from Texas, I’ll just say right out that this is the biggest Earth Day celebration in the world.
Why did you decide to take this project on?
I’m an environmentalist and Earth Day is a great brand. But it is underutilized all over America. Earth Days have not grown. With very few exceptions, they’ve become piddling affairs. So ours, with approximately 57,000 people attending over the two days is a great feat. I chose this project because Dallas-Fort Worth is the fourth-largest metropolitan area in the United States but has a bad track record in various environmental areas: air quality, water, etc. So the way I see it is we have a lot of people who can really improve things a great deal as opposed to having an Earth Day in Seattle, where they already know about this.
How did we get in this environmental predicament to begin with?
Businesses are half the problem and consumers – well, we’re the other half. Right now, because of philanthropic, economic and commercial reasons, business leaders are increasingly motivated to be green. Energy efficiency means saving money.
Can you make the business case for sustainability?
Sure. The payback right now for, say, solar housing or solar-powered restaurants or warehouses in Dallas-Fort Worth is something like three years. Think about it: You can pay back your solar-panel installation in three years and then you’re making great savings every year thereafter.
What do you say to restaurateurs who think sustainability is too expensive?
I’d say I don’t think they have the facts, and unfortunately, many of them are not disposed to learn those facts. But that’s what Earth Day is about – to educate. It’s just like the National Restaurant Association, which has a big job in trying to educate small businesses.
How would you advise a restaurateur or business to get started?
Well, I won’t presume to know their businesses, but I want to say maybe start with recycling. However, I know there are some difficulties associated with having a dumpster in the back of a small restaurant.
Why is it important for restaurateurs to be sustainable?
Let’s start with the business reasons. Restaurants will make money by being sustainable, by being energy efficient. For example, insulating a roof will be a huge savings on electricity. So No. 1, it’s to save money. To increase business is No. 2. The reason, in my opinion, is that even in Dallas, now, so many people are sensitive to sustainable policies. After these five decades since the 1960s began, we’ve finally learned that green is good and the general population is patronizing businesses that are [sustainable]. In my opinion, the easiest segment for a consumer to favor one business over a competitor because they’re green is restaurants, and many restaurants have not taken advantage of this yet. But they’ll prosper when they do. The last reason: they’ll feel good because they’re doing the right thing.
So what’s your ultimate goal in terms of sustainability and for Earth Day Texas?
To save the world! (Laughs)
Visit the Conserve initiative for more information on sustainable best practices in the restaurant industry. Visit Earth Day Texas to learn more about that event.