Friday, June 27, 2008

Carbon footprints on restaurateurs’ backs

This just in from the Wile E. Coyote Falling Anvil Alert Service: Stay inside. The well-intentioned forces that hope to make the world a better place for chipmunks and koala bears are about to drop some serious (and no doubt recycled) iron on the restaurant industry.

You might even spot some casual-dining operators atop the cliff with them, though they could end up victims as much as supporters. Their curbside takeaway business would no doubt benefit if the ecologically-minded put the brakes on quick-service drive-thrus, as a number of activists are already vowing because of pollution concerns. The proponents of bans on drive-thrus or car idling could probably live with casual dining’s system of running an order out to patrons’ SUVs or hybrids as soon as they pull into designated parking spots.

It’s the drive-thru that has the Dark Greens stomping their Birkenstocks. Isn’t wasteful idling as much a part of that experience as yelling into a microphone? And isn’t that both contributing to global warming and wasting precious gas? Why not ban it?

And that’s exactly what Minneapolis did a little over two weeks ago. Cars that sit still outside of traffic for more than three minutes have to shut down their engines or risk getting ticketed.

Other areas, like Madison, Wis., are weighing the possibility of banning new drive-thrus. And interest in that method of cutting auto emissions is approaching a national crusade in Canada, with at least nine major cities considering a prohibition on the drive-up.

But the casual restaurant operators may soon have their own sustainable fish to fry. Conservationists hoping to stigmatize bottled water on ecological grounds succeeded last week in recruiting the Klingon Empire to their cause. After hearing that San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom had outlawed his city’s purchase of bottled water, the U.S. Conference of Mayors passed a resolution that obliges the 250 members to look into a similar rule within their respective jurisdictions. Already, the tribal leaders of Ann Arbor, Mich., have agreed not to allow bottled water to be served at city events.

So far, restaurants have only been pressured by the pro-tap forces to stop selling bottled water, instead of being forced by law. But certainly that insistence they forego the high-margin item is going to grow much, much stronger. Indeed, the industry is even hearing it from its own members. At the trade’s big convention last month in Chicago, some attendees groused that the panel of speakers at one event was provided with single-serving bottles of water, instead of a pitcher and glasses. It probably didn’t help that the green movement was going to be one of the topics discussed.

So what’s an industry to do? For one thing, catch up with Road Runner of public opinion. When I mention the possibility of a drive-thru or idling ban, restaurateurs always shoot me that same look they’d direct at a deranged street person. It reminds me of the bemused look they used to get when the topic of menu labeling came up at the beginning of the decade.

Secondly, the debates have largely been waged thus far on the basis of emotion, not fact. How much pollution do cars in a drive-thru actually contribute, and how does that compare with the emissions generated by parking, or stopping and starting the engine?

And what is the carbon glass print, so to speak, for water that comes from a bottle rather than a tap? How much energy is needed to wash pitchers or glasses for the stuff that comes out of a pipe in the kitchen? And how much of an impact did that pipe have? What about the effect on reservoirs that have already dwindled below the high-water mark?

Some hardcore research is clearly needed. Just try to avoid a provider that goes by the name of Acme. Its products have proven time and again to be ineffective, especially if they have a fuse.

1 comment:

  1. The solution is to obviously to legalize marijuana. No need for 55 mph speed limit. Heck, you could reduce it to 25 mph. Gas mileage would jump +10 miles per gal even in SUV's. But I dare you to banish drive-thru's then. Same store comps would rise in the double digit range and every chain in America would be forced to operate 24 hrs a day. Check averages would double.

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