Larkburger, a small but growing chain of “fast casual” restaurants in Colorado, calls itself eco-friendly. As it happens, the company has taken a thoughtful approach to limiting its environmental footprint. It generates almost no waste, using utensils made out of potatoes, and cups made of corn that can be composted along with its food waste. It uses recycled mesquite wood to decorate the walls. It buys wind energy to offset its electricity use.
These are not trivial gestures. They all cost money. Larkburger’s president, Adam Baker, recently told me: “The trash bags that we use are compostable. They’re a dollar apiece. I look at those and say, I wish that they would make it cheaper. But it’s part of our DNA. It’s part of what we do.”
One more thing to know about Larkburger: The burger is really good. I set aside my mostly-vegetarian diet to try a Larkburger ($5.95) with Truffle & Parmesan Fries ($2.95). Yum! You don’t have to take my word for it. Judges at the Denver burger battle crowned the Larkburger the best in show, as it bested 11 other burgers at the competition last summer.
But–and you knew this was coming–the question is, can a restaurant that serves beef, and presumably wants to sell more of it all the time, really be eco-friendly? By most accounts — here’s an overview from WWF — beef has negative environmental impacts, on greenhouse gas emissions, water and land use. It’s a very inefficient, albeit tasty, way to deliver the protein we need.
This isn’t just a question about beef. It’s the kind of thing that comes up all the time when we think about consuming more sustainably. Should we feel better about bottled water if the bottles are made from recycled content, or try to wean ourselves off bottled water altogether? How should we think about a 15,000 square foot “eco-mansion”? (Not well–that’s a pretty easy one.) What about “the world’s first and only full-size Luxury hybrid SUV“? [click to continue…]