Signs exist that the fast food industry is moving to reflect people's desires for healthier choices and greener products. The ban on trans fats in New York City is just one example of how quickly the restaurant industry can move to answer public demand or governmental policy. However, many shareholders may wonder if enough is being done by fast food chains to protect the environment, and how to tell the responsible burger and pizza peddlers from the rest.
Ellen Kennedy is a senior social research analyst at Calvert Group, which specializes in mutual funds that invest in socially and environmentally responsible companies. Kennedy identified four high-impact issues for socially responsible investors regarding fast food: the company's environmental footprint, workplace issues, animal welfare and product safety, and marketing to children.
"Like Wal-Mart, large fast food companies can influence whole categories of suppliers by virtue of their purchasing decisions, "said Kennedy. "So one way to think about fast food operations is to start with each ingredient and follow it through the supply chain to disposal or recycling. For example, we know that global seafood supplies are predicted to crash in the 2040s. Does the company sell fish species that are threatened? Does the company have good seafood supplier standards that are independently monitored? Does the company source shrimp that have been farmed with high levels of pesticides or antibiotics? How is the fish processed, transported, and refrigerated? What does the company do with trash and organic waste?" Kennedy continued.
Eighteen years ago, Michael Oshman helped create the Green Restaurant Association (GRA), a third party non-profit that works to certify restaurants as green. So far 256 restaurants have received certification or are in the process of getting certified. GRA defines a green restaurant as one that is Styrofoam free, has a full scale recycling program, has made four new environmental changes, and is committed to make four new pro-environmental changes every year.
"In the last year we have tripled the amount of restaurants that are certified or on the way to being certified, " Oshman explained.