Fast-casual salad chains work to lessen their environmental impact

Sweetgreen and Just Salad have come out with new sustainability goals and efforts.
Sweetgreen salad
Photograph courtesy of Sweetgreen

Two fast-casual chains in recent days have committed to operational changes to reduce their impacts on the planet.

Sweetgreen on Wednesday pledged to be “carbon neutral” by 2027, surveying its emissions output across all aspects of the business and creating an action plan to reach that goal.

And Just Salad released its annual sustainability report Monday, detailing its environmental efforts in 2020. The chain, which has long had a reusable bowl program, said it is testing a digital version.

“The COVID pandemic made us more determined to create a new normal for our industry—one in which waste is taboo, reusables are taken for granted and doing ‘less bad’ is not good enough,” Just Salad’s CEO Nick Kenner and Chief Sustainability Officer Sandra Noonan wrote in the report.

For its part, Sweetgreen said it will take several first steps toward becoming carbon neutral, including sustainable sourcing for each ingredient, letting carbon emissions guide menu development and evaluation, and using low-emission building materials inside its restaurants.

“Sweetgreen is working across every element of the food system—how food is grown on farms, transported to customers and consumed in restaurants—to cut emissions,” Taylor Francis, co-founder of the Watershed climate software platform, said in a statement. “Sweetgreen’s menu is already 30% less carbon intensive than the average U.S. diet, and their commitment to decrease their greenhouse gas intensity by 50% and become carbon neutral is setting a new bar for the industry.”

Just Salad has long had a program in which consumers can buy a reusable bowl for $1 to use on future orders and receive a free topping. The salad chain is testing a program in New York City in which a reusable bowl can be ordered for delivery and later returned to a Just Salad restaurant for cleaning.

Just Salad is also working on integrating sustainable behaviors into its loyalty and rewards program, working with research scientists on a behavioral study about carbon labels, and reducing food waste through a pilot program with the surplus food app Too Good To Go.

Just Salad added carbon labels on its menu in 2020. The chain recently launched a no-subscription meal kit program that uses 91% less packaging than standard kits, the company said.

Other chains have made recent sustainability efforts. In October, Panera Bread announced it would begin labeling all menu items with how climate-friendly they are. That same month, Chipotle Mexican Grill added a sustainability tracker for digital orders.



More from our partners