The ‘Greening’ of Today’s American Restaurant Chains: Green Is Not Just the Bottom Line Anymore!

America’s restaurant chains are beginning to see in the second decade of the 2000’s, a new kind of genesis in practically all of their operational approaches and customer relationships.  This environmentally friendly genesis or ‘Green Movement’ is being adopted as an integral part of their current business practices – not just as some slick hype or marketing ploy –  but as a multi-disciplinary shift in corporate policy with which to meet accelerating operating costs and complex supply chain challenges. No longer are the old paradigms of ” business as usual”, the norm.  Instead, from coast to coast corporate teams are now embracing green energy technologies, expanding ‘organic’ food menus and recycling their waste products.  “Good Eats” now includes “Good Stewardship”.  Herein is a brief overview of how America’s restaurant chains are reshaping themselves.

One of the most closely watched trends is in their switch from standard type incandescent light bulbs to fluorescent light bulbs to ultra modern energy efficient light-emitting diodes.  The Rose Group, the 34th largest restaurant franchise company in the USA and managerial owners of the restaurant chain, “Applebee’s”, is amongst the real pioneers in adopting LED lighting systems.   These LED systems last 2-3 times longer than fluorescents and are mercury free.  And they are not alone. Kentucky-based Yum! Brands, Inc., parent company of “Taco Bell”, “Pizza Hut”, “Kentucky Fried Chicken”, and “Long John Silver’s” has opened its first green restaurant in Northampton, Massachusetts to include not only a LED lighting system but energy-efficient kitchen equipment, a low-flow water system, solar energy, and new rainwater-based irrigation technology. In addition, this same restaurant also cleverly recycles its waste to eco-friendly fertilizer and converts its frying oil into biofuel!

And then there is Georgia-based fast food chain, “Chick-fil-A”, which is now in the process of replacing all of its lighting and water fixtures at hundreds of restaurants and planning new green building techniques for all of its future restaurants. Not far behind is South Carolina-based “Denny’s”, a family-friendly restaurant chain which is currently installing ‘Cree LED lights’ in all the dining areas and restrooms of its newest restaurants.  Meanwhile, ‘Subway’, the largest franchise chain in the USA, has just opened FIVE new “eco–restaurants” – two in North Carolina, one in Indiana, and two in Connecticut with many soon-to-open including one at the newly renovated “Green” Student Center on the campus of the University of California Los Angeles campus which will feature “a walkable rooftop terrace and garden”.  Some of the more interesting ‘eco-elements’ incorporated into these new “eco-restaurants” are a  “light harvesting system through solar panels”, a “large monitor that display real time energy usage of the restaurant”, automatic shut-off faucets in the restrooms, and sensors that flip on the lights when people use the facilities.

Another environmentally responsible franchise is Ohio-based “White Castle”, a fast food hamburger restaurant chain founded in 1921.  In addition to using LED lighting at 55 of its restaurant locations, it owns and operates three of its own bakeries, and employs its own fleet of refrigerated trucks to distribute frozen buns to restaurants in 12 states. In addition to using new energy efficient roofing construction, all of its brown corrugated packaging and paper are made of 100 percent recycled material.   Water stewardship is another big trend in the ‘Green Movement’ sweeping across America’s restaurant chain landscape and in the forefront is Tennessee-based “Ruby Tuesday”, a casual dining restaurant chain that uses water-efficient dishwashers exclusively and an innovative stackable glassware rack that consumes less water and soap than standard ones.  And at both its Pensacola, Florida restaurant and its Westland, Michigan’s restaurant, “McDonald’s” has tapped into underground geothermal sources of energy whereby water is used to transfer heat from the earth to their buildings when it’s cold, and to move heat from the buildings to the earth when it’s hot. Their geothermal systems have been shown to cut energy costs by half already and are projected to work well for more than 50 years. (Note: McDonald’s is the world’s largest chain of hamburger fast food restaurants.

Finally there is a growing trend for ethically sourced food products. “Starbucks Corporation”, the Seattle-based coffeehouse chain, the largest in the world, is perhaps the best representative of “ethical purchasing” – securing organically grown tea, coffee beans, and cocoa beans by supporting farmer’s rights and living conditions within their eco-sensitive communities whilst reducing their use of toxic pesticides and fertilizers.  On the other hand, Starbucks is criticized by many environmentalists for using disposable cups that require enormous amounts of natural resources and energy.  But this is a conundrum that all of America’s restaurant chains face – ground-breaking efforts in one area – are usually offset by environmental costs in another area.  The good news is that two-thirds of America’s restaurant chains are actively pursuing sustainability solutions – and they are now being helped by new sustainability software in today’s ever expanding sustainability marketplace.

An Architect’s Dream, A Community’s Hope, A Developer’s Magnet, and A Nation’s Phoenix: Recycling Medieval Castles!

A castle is like a magic wand – it evokes images of powerful knights, fairytale princesses, spell-casting wizards, and medieval riches of immeasurable grandeur.    And for those castles that stand in ruins today, many are now being reconstructed, restored, recycled, and ‘reborn’ to their former glory all across the globe – for reasons as varied as their shapes and sizes.

In Poland, two businessmen brothers along with real-estate developer, Jacek Nazarko, are now rebuilding a medieval castle in the village of Bobolice in northwestern Poland in order to house a museum and attract tourists to this haunted enclave whose tunnels still connect to nearby Mirow Castle.  Originally built as a royal castle in the middle of the 14th century by King Casimir III the Great, the Lasecki brothers hope to “recapture the enchantment of time when Poland was a great European power, before centuries of occupation, warfare, and foreign rule.” Elsewhere in the south-western region of Poland, the Ortus Foundation together with architects, OP Architekten, are in the middle of a revitalization program – the building of a cultural center within the remaining walls of Chrzelice Castle.  The whole complex is to be supplied with energy coming from renewable resources and it is hoped that the village of Chrzelice and the surrounding countryside will thrive with the assemblage of new social, intellectual, and cultural activities and media technologies within its local historical confines.

In Hungary, a group of castle-enthusiasts, who call themselves the “Friends of Szadvar”, are committed to spending their weekends restoring the 12th century Castle Szadvar, located in Hungary’s Aggtelek National Park near the Slovakian border, which also happens to be one of the poorest counties in Hungary plagued by mine and factory closings.  Additional volunteers for their clean-up efforts are now being recruited thru a Youth Camp that they sponsor during the summer.  In addition to wanting to preserve this medieval site, the ‘Friends’ also wish to promote economic development in the surrounding communities by turning the site into a major tourist attraction thereby attracting new capital infusions and clean service sector businesses into the local area.

And in the village of Algerri in northeastern Spain near the Pyrennes, volunteers are working to restore their medieval castle while in southern Spain folks are busy restoring Islamic castles re-using the stone ruins of Roman masonry of the 1st – 4th centuries (technically known as spolia) that the Moorish invaders first re-used themselves to build their Muslim-fortified structures as they moved through the Iberian peninsula.  And halfway around the world in Kumamoto, Japan, restoration efforts are now almost done on Castle Udo Yagura, a project aimed at commemorating the 400th anniversary of its completion by the famous samurai, Kato Kiyomasa, back in 1607.

But not all these castle revitalization efforts are being made with impunity. In south-central Portugal, in the tiny medieval mountaintop village of Marvao, the renovation of its spectacular 13th century castle is being criticized by both residents and visitors alike for its lack of ‘authenticity’.  The installation of modern lamps, new cobblestones, concrete walkways and benches, and a steel-and-glass encased surveillance system are all being questioned.  And in Scotland, some medieval ghost-filled castles are being transformed into spooky “Horror Hotels”. In sharp contrast, however, in the South Tyrolean area of northern Italy, the renovation of beautiful Bruneck Castle, an awe-inspiring 13th century castle surrounded by the Zillertal Alps, has been carefully transformed by EM2  Architects into the Messner Mountain Museum (the fifth in a series of mountain museums) under the careful guidance of famed Reinhold Messner, a famous climber, writer, lecturer, and cultural anthropologist. As the mission of the converted castle is to highlight the art, culture, and religion of mountain people around the world, the interior is appropriately constructed with unfinished timber – a material that does justice to the architectural integrity of the castle and can be easily removed for various exhibitions.

On the whole, the recycling of medieval castles is a painstakingly serious endeavor rooted in archaeology, material sciences, and architectural history.  Perhaps the best example of this is in Treigny, France.  Deep in the forests of Burgundy, France, a team of modern-day masons under the guidance of architect, Jacques Moulin, are now in the process of constructing a 13th century medieval castle from scratch using the same materials and techniques that were used in the Middle Ages. Nails, ropes, baskets, and roof-tiles are all made on site as well as lime kilns for making mortar and the castle’s design is historically based on a popular style used by King Philip II of France.  Known as Guedelon Castle, the project has created 55 jobs and is now a tourist destination with more than 300,000 visitors per year.

Given the fact that castles the world over have such universal appeal and a wondrous ability to captivate our imagination, is it any wonder then that the green innovations of today and the economic prosperity of tomorrow might be the greatest beneficiaries yet of these recycled medieval giants?

Colorize Your Next Travel Plans! – Discover The Latest Eco-Trends at America’s Greenest Hotel Chains!

It used to be that whatever your budget, hotel chains were a standardized home away from home – with just a few extra perks – complimentary newspapers and continental breakfast, an indoor or outdoor pool, an assortment of vending machines and television channels to relax away your free time and of course, an array of miniature soaps and shampoo bottles nestled on top of your bathroom counter.

But in just the last few years, much like the old black and white television sets of the 1950’s and early 60’s, America’s largest hotel chains have now undergone a color transformation – from black and white – to GREEN!!!!  So much so that they are even encouraging their customers to participate in their sustainability programs with whole websites dedicated to their projects for viewing and exploring.  These leaders of the hospitality industry include the InterContinental Hotels Group, Wyndham Hotel Group, Marriott International, Hilton Worldwide, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Kimpton Hotels, Choice Hotels, Carlson Hotels, Best Western, Accor Hospitality Group, Global Hyatt and La Quinta Inns and Suites!

Indeed, green practices and technologies are being incorporated in everything from power-flush toilets to low-flow showerheads, from motion-detection sensors to energy efficient compact fluorescent lighting, from green heat-reflecting roofs to photovoltaic solar-electric systems, from eco-friendly shampoos and soaps in bulk dispensers to non-toxic biodegradable housekeeping cleansers, from in-room recycling bins to recycled artwork and office furniture, from organic dining to organic bedding, and yes, from wireless digital media communications to hotel invoices, brochures, and keycard sleeves made of recycled paper with soy-based inks.

Here are some of the most innovative examples:

1-‘Eco-Friendly Uniforms’ – Yes, the Hotel Front Desk Staff at Wyndham wear two-piece suits made of 25 two-liter recycled plastic bottles woven into soft fabrics which do not require professional laundering.  In another major innovation, Wyndham Hotels now offers ‘Allergy-Friendly Rooms’ known as “CleanAir Rooms” whose air purification system and specially treated bed linen eliminates anywhere from 98 to 100% of all viruses and bacteria.

2-‘Eco-Innovative Investments’ – Marriott International is actively involved in rainforest protection and water conservation through a portfolio of innovative conservation initiatives which include a two million plus commitment to preserving 1.4 million acres of rainforest in Brazil and a half million plus commitment to protecting the mountain sources of fresh water for 2 billion people in Asia.  This latter environmental initiative helps rural communities to develop sustainable businesses such as mushroom farming and honey production whilst reducing erosion and water quality contamination downstream.

3-‘Eco-Friendly Landscaping, Building Construction, and Food and Energy Supplies’ – The Hilton Hotel in Vancouver, Washington is one of the most environmentally advanced hotels in the USA.  Not only does it feature a recyclable brick construction, a unique irrigation system to water its native local plants, and fueling stations for electric cars but a restaurant menu of locally sourced meat, fish, cheese, wine and bread.

4-   ‘Earthcare Performance and Monitoring Tracking System’ – Kimpton Hotels is in the forefront of environmental stewardship – introducing new eco-friendly products and corporate services both internally and nationally through its many partnerships and alliances with environmentally minded organizations such as The Nature Conservancy, The Trust for Public Land, and Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program.  ‘EarthCare Educational and Training Program’ – Kimpton Hotels has established its own employee selected “EarthCare Champion Teams”’ who build and support ecologically responsible hotel standards and procedures. ‘EarthCare Building Preservation Program’ – Kimpton Hotels is well-known for restoring, revitalizing, and converting old historic landmarks for hotel usage including notable office buildings, department stores, a telephone switching station, a general post office, a fruit and vegetable canning plant, and the 10th oldest building in the USA.

Yes, indeed, we have come a long way since the Howard Johnson’s motor lodges of the 1960’s when American hotel chains were simply an overnight stop for our road trips across the USA.   Today they are a reflection of our eco-conscious society and a colorful high quality experience not to be missed!