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Bringing the Passion for Sustainability from my Farm to my Restaurant

April 29, 2014

By: Russ Hernandez, Russ Hernandez is the Staffing and Training Manager at the Las Cruces, New Mexico Olive Garden. He has been with the company for just over six years and is a passionate and active Sustainability Team member.

Bringing the Passion for Sustainability from my Farm to my Restaurant

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Growing up on a farm taught me a lot about where our food comes from and the resources needed to produce it, and it was there that my passion for sustainability started. Since that time, I’ve been actively involved in getting those around me excited about sustainability. That being said, it’s important to me that someone chooses to be a sustainability advocate on his or her own accord. It should be an empowering decision cultivated by passion, and I want to be the champion that gives them the tools to make that choice.

I was first asked to be part of a Sustainability Team when I was working at the Olive Garden in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Since that time, I have worked in several Olive Garden locations and in each restaurant I see evidence of Darden’s commitments in action. Changing to low-flow aerators on our faucets, adjusting lighting schedules and using LED bulbs have all made a difference in our restaurants’ use of resources. In fact, these changes, along with spearheading a glass-recycling program and our community involvement, have made my current location a role model for other businesses in our community. This inspires our employees to continually look for ways to operate even more sustainably.

Over time, I learned that if I let employees be the drivers of our sustainability initiatives it would empower them to be environmental advocates and take pride in their efforts. It’s this chain of passion that resulted in our restaurant’s monthly Olive Garden Cares events. Each month our passionate employees get together and volunteer in the community. We’ve taken part in tree plantings, installing community gardens and serving food in local soup kitchens where we’ve been able to see the Darden Harvest program come full circle. This passion even finds its way to our guests as servers excitedly share the results of our latest water-saving efforts, glass recycling or community project.

Sustainability has always been important to me, but so is building a strong bond with my community and inspiring others to be the next generation for change. If I can get others excited about sustainability and allow them to take it to the next level then I’ll have done my job, and a passion that started so many years ago on a family farm will continue to grow in future generations.

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