Olive Garden, Red Lobster Lead Darden's Push to Green Restaurants

Olive Garden, Red Lobster Lead Darden's Push to Green Restaurants

Darden Restaurants has launched a green building initiative that will add eight restaurants designed to meet LEED standards to the company's three largest brands -- Olive Garden, Red Lobster and LongHorn Steakhouse.

The company intends to use the sites as "learning labs" in its push to build new restaurants using the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards, said Suk Singh, Darden's senior vice president of development. When feasible, the standards also will be used to guide restaurant remodeling projects, according to the company.

"While we may not seek LEED certification for every restaurant we build or remodel, we can make a positive impact by learning from the eight restaurants where we are seeking LEED certification and applying best practices across our entire portfolio," Singh said in a prepared statement. "Every restaurant we build represents a 30-year investment, so we want to build them to last. But more importantly, we want to build them in a sustainable manner from both a construction standpoint and an operational one."

The company's building schedule calls for two Olive Gardens and two Red Lobsters to open this year, and another Olive Garden, two more Red Lobsters and a LongHorn Steakhouse to open in 2011. The first of the Olive Gardens opened in January in Jonesboro, Ark.

The eco-friendly elements of the restaurant’s design and construction include:

  • Recycled building materials - Sheetrock, doors, windows and other supplies were made from recycled content; the carpet squares used were made from 100 percent recycled materials.
  • Increased use of natural light - The design incorporated more windows than usual to reduce the need for artificial light and the energy to power it.
  • Energy efficient equipment and fixtures - Builders installed Energy Star-rated equipment, LED light bulbs, low-flow water nozzles in the kitchen and automatic faucets in the restrooms to cut energy and water use. The LEDs use 7 watts of energy and last as many as 50,000 hours, compared with standard bulbs that use 75 watts and had a two- to three-year service life.
  • Reclaimed Heat - The restaurant supplements the heating of hot water for the kitchen by using reclaimed heat: Heat expelled the condensing units of the HVAC system and the freezer/cooler condensing units is used to warm the water.

{related_content}With 1,800 restaurants and $7 billion in annual sales, Darden's other brands include The Capital Grille, Bahama Breeze and Seasons 52.

Darden's other sustainability efforts in buildings and operations include the construction of its new headquarters, called the Restaurant Support Center, which opened in September 2009 in Orlando. The company is seeking LEED-Gold certification for the three-story, 469,000-square-foot campus built by developer Trammell Crow Company, architectural firm Perkins+Will and general contractor Hardin Construction.

Also in September, Darden reported its analysis of the carbon footprint of its owned operations to the Carbon Disclosure Project for the first time and estimated it at more than 1.075 million metric tonnes a year.

In addition to having green teams at almost all its sites, the company said in its recent report, "Making a Difference in 2009," that it has started programs to track energy use at headquarters and restaurants. The firm estimated it can cut electricity use by up to 10 percent each month across the business and noted that seemingly small efforts can lead to big improvements.

Recent moves to better manage resources have included:

  • Changing kitchen lights to CFLs that use 80 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs.
  • Installing low-flow pre-rinse sprayers in dishwashing areas. The sprayers save the average Darden restaurant tens of thousands of gallons of water a year.
  • Setting all the thermostats at all restaurants to pre-established temperatures, keeping in mind that a one-degree variation can affect electricity consumption by 3 percent.
  • Fixing all water leaks, another improvement with the potential to save thousand of gallons of water each year.

Image courtesy of Olive Garden and Darden Restaurants.