5 Fast Casual Restaurants Changing The Business Model By “Going Green”



Today’s diners want to eat at restaurants that cook with organic ingredients and operate with ethical standards. Today, any business owners should consider implementing sustainable business practices to their organization.


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Fast casual restaurants, or fast food chains that bring higher quality than normal ‘fast food’, are changing the way consumers eat and view fast food eating. These types of restaurants are innovative in that they not only offer better ingredients, tastier food, and better environments, but they’re now contributing to the betterment of planet Earth by practicing sustainable methods.

Today’s diners want to eat at restaurants that cook with organic ingredients and operate with ethical standards. Think solar-powered restaurants, recyclable packaging, and water conservation methods. Restaurants are traditionally huge energy wasters — according to Pacific Gas & Electric’s Food Service Technology Center, restaurants use five times more energy than any other commercial building.

Businesses that invest in renewable energy and sustainable practices are important to customers. Today’s diners want to support businesses that care about the planet. In fact, 40 percent of millennials cite sustainability as a factor when they’re buying food and drink — and they’re literally putting their money where their mouth is and voting with their wallets.

These five restaurants are serving up a delicious menu full of whole grains, a variety of fruits and vegetables, and sustainable meat — and they’re helping to save Mother Earth while they’re at it.

1. Shake Shack

One of the country’s fastest growing food chains, burger joint Shake Shack takes pride in its commitment to “Stand for Something Good.” Diners willingly spend double the amount on a Shake Shack burger versus a traditional Big Mac because of Shake Shack’s green standards.

The restaurant has a cult-like following, which has prompted the opening of locations around the world. Its produce is fresh and sourced from local suppliers, and the 100-percent beef is all hormone free. The restaurant itself is hardly a shack. Shake Shack locations are built with eco-friendly materials and powered through wind farms and renewable energy credits. Even the waste is recycled — food is composted and cooking oil is recycled to be used as bio diesel fuel.

2. Panera Bread

From cage-free eggs to freshly baked whole grain bread and ethically raised chickens, bakery-cafe Panera Bread is invested in sustainable food. Touting a “Food as it should be” philosophy, the restaurant’s natural and tasty soups and sandwiches helped propel it to the top of Fast Company’s most innovative companies of 2015 rankings.

The company even made headlines earlier this year when it announced it is ditching artificial flavoring and preservatives. Panera’s packaging is 90 percent compostable, while the latest restaurants are built using LEED-certified standards.

3. Rubio’s

Fresh produce and sustainable meat are the stars of this fresh-Mex franchise. Rubio’s buildings operate with energy-efficient lighting, recyclable materials, and tankless water heaters. By serving food on reusable plates, Rubio’s estimates it diverts 350,000 pounds of paper waste from landfills annually.

The disposable takeout containers are compostable, biodegradable, recyclable, and/or made from raw materials. Every restaurant offers recycling, and the company recycles about 80,000 gallons of grease each year — enough to fill five swimming pools.

4. Tender Greens

At California chain Tender Greens, real chefs are hired to create the all-natural, quick-service entrees. In fact, the farm-to-fork chain offers a list of the small farms, local ranches, and boutique wineries that provide its ingredients.

The meat it serves is also eco-conscious — beef is grain-fed and antibiotic free, chickens are raised cage free, and tuna is caught right from the Pacific Ocean. This fresh food is always served in eco-friendly containers. When building its restaurants, Tender Greens uses reclaimed wood in tables and counters and designs buildings with LEED-certified materials. It will be expanding outside California in 2016.

5. Chipotle

Chipotle’s mission is “Food with Integrity” — and the company means it. Food is sourced from farms where animals are humanely raised. The Mexican food chain uses organic ingredients when possible, partnering with farmers who limit the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and antibiotics. Millions have viewed Chipotle’s wildly successful viral ads criticizing industrialized factory-produced food and calling for a return to sustainable farming.

And it’s not just fancy smoke-and-mirror marketing. Chipotle removed pork from their menu earlier this year when it found a supplier didn’t meet its animal welfare standards, a decision that hurt profits but cemented the company’s commitment to elevated menu offerings. Chipotle also began installing solar panels on restaurant rooftops years ago.

These five businesses show that it’s possible to make a profit without hurting the planet or your bottom line. Business owners: if you haven’t already implemented sustainable business practices, consider starting now. Not only will you save money and attract environmentally conscious consumers, you’ll be saving the planet, too.

Image credit: Chelsea Nesvig

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