Whoever says fast food is unhealthy for the body and the environment hasn’t been introduced to Sweetgreen, a chain restaurant dedicated to changing how we view food production, consumption and waste.
What is Sweetgreen all about?
In short, Sweetgreen represents a new era of fast food — one that focuses on healthy ingredients and local community. It’s fast food reimagined and it began August 1, 2007 when three recent college graduates launched the flagship location in Washington D.C. Tired of having to choose between slow and expensive food options or food that was fast but unhealthy, the trio made a commitment to offering quality and convenient food as a better option.
What are Sweetgreen’s goals?
Every step along the 16-year journey has been focused on one central tenet. The company explains in its mission statement, “Our core values guide our actions and we aim to empower our customers, team members and partners to be a positive force on the food system. That’s why we’re building a transparent supply network, why we cook from scratch and why we’re building a community of people who believe in the power of real food.”
Thereby, transparency is at the very foundation of the company. With dozens of locations and more scheduled openings happening soon, Sweetgreen’s messaging is consistent across the board, and it centers around building healthier communities by connecting people to real food.
What can customers expect from Sweetgreen?
At the top of the list of items customers can expect is fresh ingredients that are locally sourced and organic whenever possible. Even with that goal in mind, the words “organic” and “local” were recently removed from the menu in an effort to honor full transparency in instances where ingredients may have traveled further or come from a farm not certified as organic. To provide localized information, Sweetgreen restaurants post a source board. Online, customers can see specials that highlight local fare, such as Lobster Roll Salad in Boston, Garlic Chili Shrimp Bowl in Houston and Citrus Shrimp and Avocado in Miami.
While the menu is highly based on a diet emphasizing plants, it also incorporates a variety of responsibly-sourced animal products. For example, it only uses cage-free eggs for recipes that include eggs or mayonnaise. It also abides by the Better Chicken Commitment (BCC), which works to ensure humane animal treatment. This partnership means chickens have adequate space to move freely outdoors, are provided litter for digging and foraging, live in an atmosphere with natural or artificial light for both day and night and the entire process is evaluated by auditors.
What are Sweetgreen’s sustainability aspects?
While not every small farm can burden the costs of growing organic exclusively, Sweetgreen focuses on selecting foods that are regionally sourced and sustainably grown. In fact, sustainability is the very pulse of the company, starting with a very public goal to achieve carbon neutrality by 2027.
“We believe that climate change is the defining challenge of our generation, posing a real and systemic threat to the health of people and the planet,” said Sweetgreen. “As restaurant leaders in an industry that drives 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions, it is our responsibility to use our platform and resources to confront this crisis head on.”
Sweetgreen started this transition by measuring its total carbon footprint across its operations. With this baseline, it plans to reach carbon neutrality by reducing emissions up and down the pipeline, which requires a focused look at where and how food is grown or raised. Sweetgreen partners with food providers who share its decarbonization mission.
The company supports the implementation and use of new technologies, such as those that convert manure into energy, thus minimizing the need for fertilizers. It also looks for agricultural operations that rely on regenerative farming practices and who place an emphasis on soil health. All of these actions add up to sustainable operations that benefit the environment and Sweetgreen customers.
By collaborating with local farmers who prioritize water conservation, the use of renewable energy, erosion control, organic methods, etc., Sweetgreen calculates a 50% reduction in the footprint that comes from suppliers. From there, Sweetgreen takes the carbon reduction process in house with attention to developing menus that are highly plant based rather than rich in animal products.
The company is currently focused on the green design, building materials and systems in its restaurants, evaluating viable solutions for energy efficiency, water conservation and even the carbon footprint of the furniture.
Over the next few years, the team plans to continue to drive down the overall impact as much as possible. It will then offset any remaining carbon footprint to reach carbon neutrality.
“At Sweetgreen, we have a saying: the choices we make about what we eat, where it comes from, and how it’s prepared have a direct and powerful impact on the health of individuals, communities and the environment. Today, with the future of the planet at stake, these words have never rang more true,” said the company.
Images via Sweetgreen