Restaurants Produce Green Profits Any business can benefit from these strategies that appeal to consumers who want to support green operations

By Bill Roth

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Here's why I am writing a two-part series about restaurants and "Going Green": According to the National Restaurant Association, almost a million restaurants in the United States generate more than $500 billion annually, employ 13 million people and provide 70 billion meals a year. The Green Economic Revolution has begun to take hold with restaurateurs, and they have lessons your business can learn.

One key element of "Going Green" is logistics. According to a study done by Martin Heller and Gregory Keoleian with the Center for Sustainable Systems, University of Michigan, the average American foodstuff travels an estimated 1,500 miles before being consumed. This is not sustainable at today's fuel prices. And transportation accounts for approximately one-fourth of our country's greenhouse gas emissions.

Typical of how "Going Green" tangentially creates other benefits, restaurants gain competitive advantage by offering fresher, better tasting food sourced from local growers. This also contributes to the local economy's prosperity and increases support for local restaurants.

Like your business, running a successful restaurant also requires cost control and aligning with the increasing consumer focus upon "Going Green." So what would such a green restaurant that does it all--has compelling taste, strong cost management with competitive advantages and aligned with consumer desires for healthy food--look like?

One example is a new franchise that has exploded onto the restaurant scene with the motto, "Saving the earth one pizza at a time." The restaurant is called Pizza Fusion, and it is the first franchise I have seen engineered to build and run a national green restaurant chain.

Pizza Fusion has a holistic vision. More than 75 percent of its food is organic, and the rest is natural. It offers a gluten-free pizza for wheat-intolerant consumers.

"We have had customers drive a hundred miles to buy our gluten-free pizzas," vice president Eric Haley says. How many of your customers drive a hundred miles just to buy your specialty product at your location?

Pizza Fusion has a line of vegan dishes, including breadsticks with no butter, brownies and pizza with soy cheese and no milk-based ingredients. It also has casein-free pizza to provide fun food to the autistic community (casein is the predominant phosphoprotein that accounts for nearly 80 percent of proteins in milk and cheese, and many autistic children suffer from what is called a "leaky stomach" due to their intolerance to casein).

Pizza Fusion also has strong cost controls on its energy, waste and water. It uses Energy Star Certified appliances, rated most energy efficient, and uses only compact fluorescent light bulbs that use one-third less energy than conventional bulbs. Overall, a Pizza Fusion store uses 30 percent less energy than a typical pizza restaurant.

The stores also reduce their waste stream and associated costs through a supply procurement system based upon a 60-day decomposing goal that is enabled by food containers made from 100 percent corn starch and utensils that are made from 100 percent potatoes. They install low-flow faucet aerators that cut water waste by 40 percent. They use low-flow, dual-flush toilets and waterless urinals. They even give customers 25 cents off their meals for every pizza box returned for recycling. And deliveries are made by company-owned hybrid cars, which lower fuel costs and bring more cost savings. Cha-ching--straight to their bottom line!

So the question is: does "Going Green" sell?

"What we are seeing is that customers are voting with their dollars in support of businesses that are offering green solutions," Haley says.

The business results of this consumer trend for Pizza Fusion mean 70 franchises sold in about a year covering approximately a dozen states with 10 store openings and another 15 anticipated by year's end.

So, do you want to make money in this Green Economic Revolution and create sustainable competitive advantage? The steps outlined by Pizza Fusion are compelling:

  1. Make sustainability the core element in your product design, cost management and branding to increase your margins and gain competitive distinction.
  2. Identify and supply those green specialty products that mean something special to customers searching to buy green.
  3. Invest in technologies that reduce costs and emissions to gain sustainable cost control and reduce exposure to higher fossil fuel and water prices.
  4. Doing green (vs. going green) creates binding customer loyalties generating sustainable revenues.

Try these four green elements in your business. You may be surprised to find your customers and work associates have been waiting on you to capitalize on their enthusiasm, creativity and loyalty. And if you are looking for a business opportunity, start investigating franchises like Pizza Fusion that are designing strategies targeting the emerging $4 trillion Green Economy.

And don't miss part two of this series that will outline a grassroots path for "Going Green."

Wavy Line

Bill is President of NCCT , a consulting firm that helps companies grow green revenue. His newest book, The Secret Green Sauce , profiles best practices being used by successful green businesses. He has previously held roles as senior vice president of PG&E Energy Services, president of Cleantech America (a solar power plant development company) and COO of Texaco Ovonics Hydrogen Solutions (which launched the first hydrogen-fueled Prius).

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