Steve Rizer, Editor
Green Building Insider
Darden Restaurants has begun a system-wide sustainable restaurant design initiative that will consider application of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards in its new restaurants and, where feasible, restaurant remodels. The initiative is part of Darden's broader sustainability efforts aimed at limiting business impact on the environment while enhancing the operational efficiency of its restaurants.
Darden's three largest brands -- Red Lobster, Olive Garden, and Longhorn Steakhouse -- are designing eight restaurants to achieve LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). The company plans to apply certain successes from those eight restaurants to new restaurants and remodels across its portfolio in the future. The Olive Garden in Jonesboro, Ark., which opened for business last month, is the first of eight restaurants the company is designing to meet LEED standards. One more Olive Garden and two Red Lobsters are scheduled to open this year, followed by one Olive Garden, two Red Lobsters, and one Longhorn Steakhouse next year.
"Our goal with this initiative is to utilize each of the eight restaurants as a learning lab," Suk Singh, Darden's senior vice president of development, said. "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. 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 new restaurant in Jonesboro, which was designed to achieve LEED certification, features several sustainable design elements. They include the following:
Recycled Building Materials -- Supplies such as sheetrock, doors, and windows were made from recycled content. The flooring features carpet squares made from 100 percent recycled materials. Increased Use of Natural Light -- Incorporating more windows more frequently into the building's exterior reduces the need for artificial light.
Energy Efficient Equipment and Fixtures -- Items such as Energy Star-rated equipment and low-flow water nozzles in the kitchen as well as automatic faucets in the restrooms reduce energy and water usage. New light-emitting-diode light bulbs that use seven watts of energy and last up to 50,000 hours replace bulbs that used 75 watts and had to be changed 2-3 times a year. A solar array was not installed.
Reclaimed Heat -- To supplement the heating of hot water in the kitchen, heat expelled from the condensing units of the HVAC system and the freezer/cooler condensing units is reclaimed and used to heat water.
Rich Jeffers, a spokesperson for Darden, declined to disclose the amount of money it took to incorportate the green features into the Jonesboro restaurant. All of Darden's restaurants have "green teams" that, in addition to implementing programs aimed at reducing waste and energy and water usage, look for other ways to "make an impact."
There are approximately 1,800 restaurants in the Darden family in the United States, Jeffers told GBI, adding that the company has not set a goal for total number of LEED-certified restaurants." In the next fiscal year, Darden expects to build 65-70 more restaurants.
Darden recently opened its new corporate headquarters facility in Orlando, a structure that is expected to earn LEED Gold certification. It is believed to be the largest LEED Gold new construction project in Florida.