Could it be possible for a fast food restaurant to be green? Well there are things like efficient building design, and optimal lighting that makes green sense. But what other ways could fast food chains do to make their business more greener? Well here are some ways I think those restaurant or chains can go about being green:
- Kill the plastic toys in a kids’ meal – Everyone has probably seen a kids’ meal before. And from most fast food joints, they include the usual plastic toy in the little plastic bag. And I’m guessing 9/10 they go in the garbage. Why? Most toys are just little trinkets or action figures with limited actions. It’s honestly just junk, bound to go in the garbage. Think about the waste and pollution this puts in the landfills. My solution is : No kids’ meal toys anymore, or offer a points-reward collecting system. Honestly, most kids I’ve seen just skip the toy part, and dig right in for the food. I don’t think plastic junk will interest a kid much longer than 10 minutes, much less a few months before cleaning out time. Or you could set up a points-reward collecting system like My Coke Rewards and Pepsi Stuff or maybe Frito-Lay style (points on the back of chip bags). There could be a number/alphabetic code printed inside the bag/carton, and kids could just go to an online site to redeem them, and win up enough points to get a prize, which they can pick up at the company’s local fast food joint or in the mail. Or to be more kid friendly, and be helpful for those without internet access 24/7, you could do the old-fashioned approach and put in a barcode or special non-reproducible strip where kids can cut them out, save them somewhere, and bring them in to the local fast food joint to cash them in, and pick a good prize. Either method is fine. Since this is 2008, good prizes can be digital goodies (video games, MP3 songs, home theater sweepstakes, etc.) or maybe a bookstore gift card, gift card or coupon to get items at the restaurant chain (of course), or something else. This could even expand for adults. Whatever the way, having no kids’ meal toys keeps things simpler and cheaper and less wasteful. And if a rewards system is set-up, at least the consumer can benefit by getting something that’s less likely to be tossed in the garbage anytime soon.
- Let consumers use paper/biodegradable cartons and utensils – Forget styrofoam. Forget cheap plastic cutlery. Be more eco-friendly and use paper cartons for storing the food in, and giving utensils/napkins that are easily biodegradable. Styrofoam and the plastic cutlery we see in lots of fast food places will go in the trash once their use if done with, and will hit the garbage can and take centuries to decompose. If ever. Or consumers can bring their own cutlery to use, and give them a good washing when they get home.
- Build bike racks and make pedestrian access easier – Who says fast food restaurants can only serve cars? Even if the drive thru is typically car-only, that doesn’t mean other modes of personal transportation like bikes and walking shouldn’t be welcomed. Building a nice big bike rack around, so that bikers can easily and safely lock their bikes somewhere for a quick eat would be wonderful. Having good sidewalk access or building in a dense commercial area means a better way for pedestrians to get there on foot. I’m not talking about short strips of unleveled sidewalks near the restaurant, or rusty bike racks. I want quality access for non-car people.
- Encourage outdoor dining – People love to sit outdoors on nice sunny cool days. It’d be nice if there were good outdoor seating to accommodate customers on nice days. Instead of just a simple concrete bench and table slab, go a step above and offer wooden benches and tables, a big affixed umbrella, and maybe some outdoor music. Or an outdoor patio with ceiling fans (tad bit above the "typical fast food joint"). Eating outdoors means no need for air-conditioning, excessive ceiling lights, nasty chemicals to clean very often, and is better for the overall environment. Making the outdoor areas a no-smoking zone would also be great.
- Make efficient drive thru’s – Obviously, the car isn’t going away from American life anytime soon. So drive thrus will continue to be a part of fast-food chains. However, inefficient drive thrus with slow speed times, cars stalling and puffing up CO2 exhaust, and less trees and more concrete make drive thrus very bad for the environment. Simple things like putting the outdoor menu display closer to vehicles so drivers can read it better and quicker, nice landscaping such as trees and plants along the drive to suck in CO2 and release wonderful oxygen, speedy and clear response systems to ensure good communication and make the process speedier so cars don’t have to stall long, and making drive thrus shorter to accommodate less cars would make customers feel more compelled to park and go in, rather than wait in the long line and emit more CO2 by waiting. Doing this would be more beneficial to the environment.
- Recycle bins – Encourage customers to recycle their items. Of course, this being America, it’s hard to get people to stop being lazy and presort their items before tossing it. If it’s possible, do what suggestion #2 says and make waste products either paper or biodegradable so that they can decompose in landfills faster, and recycling won’t have to matter. Though the only things that I’m not sure if they could be made to be biodegradable would be straws and plastic tops of drinks. You could set aside a recycling bin for the straws and the plastic drink tops, and show that doing so would help the environment better than just tossing it in the garbage. How hard is it? Just pull the top of the drink off (the straw will probably still be attached to it) and chuck it into the plastic recycle bin. Maybe even the plastic utensils that come in the plastic bag could be recycled in as well, if they could be made to be biodegradable. Of course there is a possibility that you might have to pay extra for a company (if there’s any in the area) to take the plastics out to to a plastic recycling company, though I’ve heard that they might actually pay for these plastics, if it’s the right type.
- No smoking establishment – If there weren’t already city/town laws making smoking illegal in public restaurants, then enforce it yourself. Don’t allow smokers inside or outside of the restaurant. Don’t make an ashtray stand outside, put up no smoking signs (even on outdoor areas/patios), and you’ll have a clean smoke-free environment. Cigarettes release a lot of unnecessary CO2, could pass secondhand smoke to someone, can start fires, and a bunch of other harmful things. If people want to smoke, they should run the risk in their own homes. NOT at a public place where everyone wants to enjoy themselves.
- Healthy menu – Now, practically every fast-food chain has gotten into the "live healthy" frenzy that’s been sweeping American for a few years already by offering more green menus on the items. Fresh salads are a great way to start. Using healthier oil blends, good clean meat, deserts with fruits embedded in them, and better drink choices (like water, milk, OJ, juice) could get customers to eat smart and be more green. Eating healthy IS green. When you eat healthy, you’re less likely to over consume and indulge yourself (saving trips to the supermarket), live a long and better life, eat pure foods from Earth, and not greasy bits from several animals, and get more green into your body.
- Green building – Making a building green shouldn’t feel like a burden. Making the building very energy and water efficient can save lots of energy and water from being wasted, as well as your checkbook. LED lighting is the new way to go, if not, fluorescent lighting with a creative way to cover the ugly bulbs would be cool. Smart sensors could be installed in restrooms to determine if there’s any presence in the room, in order to switch the lights on, turn the faucet on, flush a toilet, or even dispense soap and paper towels. Create nice big expansive double-paned windows to capture a lot of natural light, as well as a view, so that you don’t have to turn the lights on that much during a sunny day. If you want to go above and beyond, install a solar panel or mini wind turbine on the rooftop to create your own electricity and lessen the monthly payments to the mean power companies. Sell/donate leftover grease to biofuel companies that want to develop next generation fuel. There’s probably other small green building practices that I’m not aware of that could help making the building more energy efficient, sustainable, and even save you money.
- Pick a good location – Keeping with the theme of being pedestrian/biker friendly, it’s important to building in a location that could suit everybody’s needs. Building deep in the city is of course an obvious idea. Building in the suburbs is another thing. It wouldn’t be green to build a fast-food restaurant as a stand-alone location with no other businesses nearby, humongous parking lot, little or no landscaping, no sidewalks or bike racks, and of course having an anti-green building. It’d be better to build a store in a shopping center or alongside in the vicinity of other businesses, so that customer could easily walk/bike over instead of take their car around for just a short drip. It also makes healthier customers who will worry less about being unhealthy. If you want to build in the middle of the country right along a freeway route, then try to partner up with gas stations or other businesses to share a building structure or at least build close by to other businesses so that people don’t have to drive, stop here, go, stop there, and stop and drive too much which can be wasteful on fuel. Or at least make yourself sustainable if you’re going to have a stand-alone restaurant in the middle of nowhere. Such as installing solar panels and wind turbines on the rooftop and rainwater collection systems to gather fresh rainwater to use in the plumbing.
I don’t intend for this to a real guide for fast-food chains to follow, but just general tips that should be simple enough for a restaurant to follow. Of course, being green probably will cost a lot of more money than usual, upfront. But think about how the quality of your restaurants will grow upwards, the satisfaction your customers will show by following a better practice, and the savings in money for being efficient. It’s better for the environment, your business, and your customers.