Chick-fil-A, McDonald’s, Subway and More Work Towards a Greener Planet
Every Earth Day, we take stock of our impact on the environment and how we can make better choices in our food and energy consumption. For the health of the planet and the customers they serve, fast-food giants like Chick-fil-A, Wendy’s and McDonald’s have made huge strides to become more sustainable. Many brands have introduced plant-based and vegetarian-friendly offerings and found ways to reduce waste and energy consumption.
How Can Fast-Food be More Sustainable?
There are many ways fast-food franchises can embrace sustainability. From reducing water usage to using energy-efficient appliances and reusable containers, one franchise brand can make a big impact on Mother Earth. Many large franchisors have become leaders in waste management, solar power, reusable materials and much more. Those efforts benefit not only Mother Earth, but potentially the bottom line. When food franchisors release sustainability reports, make an active attempt to curb emissions, and offer more plant-based options, they can attract younger consumers and build trust through transparency.
Below is a deep dive into 8 fast-food franchisors that offer vegetarian-friendly options and have sustainability goals.
Vegetarian-Friendly Option(s): Chick-fil-A recently rolled out a plant-based cauliflower sandwich in three markets. The fast-food giant describes it as a filet of cauliflower that’s marinated and coated with seasoned breading before being pressure-cooked. The sandwich is served on a buttery bun with dill pickle slices. On Earth Day 2023, customers can enjoy several vegetarian options including mac-n-cheese, waffle fries and Greek yogurt parfait.
Sustainability Goals: According to the fast-food franchisor’s 2021 Corporate Social Responsibility Report, Chick-fil-A strives to divert 25 million pounds of restaurant food waste from landfills and provide more than 200 million meals to communities by 2025.
Notable Accomplishments: To live up to its mission of being a good steward, Chick-fil-A reduces its construction waste with an innovative approach to restaurant design. The fast-food giant is also the first quick-service restaurant chain to join the Association of Plastic Recyclers Recycle Demand Champions.
Vegetarian-Friendly Option(s): Chipotle offers Lifestyle Bowls, which are made with fresh ingredients that align with lifestyle preferences like Whole30, keto, paleo, high protein, vegan, and vegetarian. These bowls are available on the Chipotle app and website.
Sustainability Goals: The corporate-owned brand plans to reduce its carbon emissions in half by 2030. To help sustain the future of farming, Chipotle pledged $5 million by 2025 to support young farmers.
Notable Accomplishments: Not only are Chipotle’s meats and dairy options free of nontherapeutic antibiotics or added growth hormones, but the popular restaurant chain focuses on regeneratively grown or raised food, according to Reader’s Digest. This involves enhancing farm ecosystems, capturing carbon, and boosting soil biodiversity. Chipotle has also donated over 282,000 pounds of food to those in need through the Harvest Program to give back and reduce waste, according to its 2022 Sustainability Report. Its burrito bowls are 100% compostable.
Vegetarian-Friendly Option(s): Vegetarians shouldn’t shy away from KFC on Earth Day 2023 just because chicken is in its name. KFC offers green beans, mashed potatoes, and sweet kernel corn as side options.
Sustainability Goals: KFC recently announced its commitment to transition to 100% cage-free eggs for all menu items and ingredients in the U.S. and Western Europe by the end of 2026 and globally by 2030. Its parent company, Yum! Brands, wants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions of all of its brands (Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and The Habit Burger Grill) by nearly 50 percent by 2030, ultimately achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.
Notable Accomplishments: Like other franchises under the Yum! Brands umbrella, KFC follows Sustainable Animal Protein Principles, which dictates qualities like environmental stewardship, responsible suppliers, animal health, and food security. KFC also partnered with NextGen Consortium and pledged to eliminate single-use plastic packaging by 2025.
Vegetarian-Friendly Option(s): McDonald’s recently gave German customers the opportunity to try its new chicken-less McPlant Nuggets. The nuggets, which contain peas, corn and wheat fried in a tempura batter, will be rolled out in its 1,400-plus restaurants, the fast-food giant said. Other plant-based options from the Golden Arches include the McPlant Burger and the Double McPlant. In addition to the McPlant Burger, there are other meatless options, such as fries and pancakes.
Sustainability Goals: The Golden Arches strives to only source cage-free eggs by 2025 in North America. The beloved fast-food franchise isn’t just dedicated to animal welfare; McDonald’s has lofty plans to use solar power for its entire supply chain, with a goal of net-zero worldwide by 2050.
Notable Accomplishments: According to McDonald’s corporate site, 100% of its palm oil and soy products come from deforestation-free supply chains, and 100% of the espresso beans for McCafe drinks are sustainably sourced and Rainforest Alliance Certified.
Vegetarian-Friendly Option(s): Vegans and non-vegans looking for a coffee fix on Earth Day 2023 can go to Starbucks and enjoy an Oat Milk Latte. Shops offer vegetarian-friendly food options like the Impossible Breakfast Sandwich, Spinach, Feta and Egg White Wrap and more.
Sustainability Goals: As part of its commitment to a resource-positive future, Starbucks plans to achieve carbon neutral green coffee and conserve water usage in green coffee processing by 50% by 2030. The coffee giant prides itself as being a leader in sustainable coffee and wants to make reusable cups the norm by 2050.
Notable Accomplishments: According to its Environmental and Social Impact Report, Starbucks is a founding member of NextGen Consortium and has pledged $10 million to the organization to identify, scale and accelerate more sustainable packaging solutions, along with McDonald’s. Additionally, Starbucks ethically sourced 98.2% of its coffee and verifies it through C.A.F.E. Practices.
Vegetarian-Friendly Option(s): Vegans and vegetarians can enjoy Subway’s Beyond Meatball Marinara (without cheese) and Veggie Delight on Earth Day 2023 any beyond.
Sustainability Goals: By 2026, Subway has committed to sourcing its chicken only from Global Animal Partnership approved breeds. This means the chickens are raised without antibiotics, hormones or animal by-products.
Notable Accomplishments: Subway uses a Gold Standard Food Safety and Quality Policy and uses Non-IUU-certified fish that are Earth Island compliant, according to Brightly. The brand’s palm oil is sourced from members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), and it says that one of its poultry suppliers converts poultry waste into certified organic fertilizer.
Vegetarian-Friendly Option(s): Taco Bell’s Veggie Cravings menu has options like the Bean Burrito, Fiesta Veggie Burrito, Spicy Potato Soft Taco, and more. They can be enjoyed on Earth Day and all year round.
Sustainability Goals: Its 2025 sustainability goals include making all customer-facing packaging recyclable, compostable, or reusable; removing PFAS, Phthalates and BPA from packaging; and adding recycling and/or composting bins to all restaurants that have the proper infrastructure.
Notable Accomplishments: The fast-food giant uses palm oil in its Cinnabon Delights and partners with vendors that utilize supply chains certified by the RSPO. Taco Bell also uses 100% recyclable and sustainably-sourced paper bags, has switched to plastic sides containers from polystyrene foam and works with TerraCycle to recycle sauce packets.
Vegetarian-Friendly Option(s): Although Wendy’s is famous for its “Where’s the beef?” campaign, its menu caters to meat lovers and vegetarians alike. In addition to its famous square beef burger, meatless options include its Veggie Stack burger, baked potato, and a number of sides like salads and apple bites.
Sustainability Goals: Wendy’s plans to sustainably source 100% of its customer-facing packaging by 2026.
Notable Accomplishments: The popular fast-food franchise surpassed its goal to reduce water usage in U.S. restaurants by 20% by 2029 against its 2018 baseline in 2021. As part of its dedication to sustainability and animal welfare, Wendy’s partnered with the Progressive Beef program to improve practices within its beef supply chain. The popular fast-food franchise sources 100% of its beef from Beef Quality Assurance (BQA)-certified sources and serves Rainforest Alliance-certified coffee.
In addition to fast-food brands, other types of eco-friendly franchisors are working towards a greener planet. From non-toxic beauty franchises to car wash services that conserve water, investors can find many business opportunities they can feel good about.