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Simplifying Sustainability

May 19, 2014

By: Brandon Tidwell, Manager of Sustainability, Darden Restaurants

Simplifying Sustainability

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I recently participated in Coca-Cola’s Annual Sustainability Summit where our discussion centered on consumers’ expectations of companies related to sustainability and how to address this growing interest. Four themes emerged:

  • Transparency
  • Traceability
  • Technology
  • Team


Consumers are demanding to know more about the products and services they use. According to the 2013 Cone Communications  and Echo’s Global CSR Study, nine out of ten consumers say they will stop buying a product (or use a service) if they feel they are being deceived. Therefore, food and beverage companies can build trust with consumers by increasing transparency about what is in the products they serve, where ingredients are sourced from, who produced them and how were they produced.

It’s not easy to be transparent - it takes commitment, time and resources to pull together and share accurate information in an easily understood format.  Recently, Coca-Cola made a commitment to share more information on the front of their cans and in their labeling. Darden provides our guests with detailed nutritional information online and in restaurants so consumers can make decisions to meet a diversity of dietary needs and preferences. By sharing this information, we hope to build trust with consumers and to prepare meals that appeal to all of our guests.


Consumers trust brands to provide products and services that are safe, affordable and high quality. According to recent research by Technomic, 63% of surveyed consumers said they are more likely to visit a foodservice operation they view as socially conscious. Consumers want to know more about the social and environmental impacts of food production. To meet this need, companies, in turn, will demand increasing amounts of traceability in their supply chains.

Consumers also want companies to use resources responsibly. They want to know employees have opportunities to advance. They want to know the planet was treated with respect.  Traceability enables companies to confirm that their values and the values of their consumers are being considered in the production and delivery of the products and services they sell. Traceability enables companies to build trust with their suppliers and with their consumers, building their brands. This is why Darden is involved a host of initiatives meant to increase traceability in supply chains.


During the Summit, Joel Makower of GreenBiz shared his enthusiasm regarding the convergence of technology and sustainability. With energy and water demand expected to grow 30-40% over the next 15 years, companies are finding ways to use information (aka “Big Data”) and technology to better manage the demand for natural resources.  Makower challenged businesses to use technology to bring solutions more quickly to the environmental challenges we face. Darden isexploring technology to drive reduced water and energy use in our restaurants. We are testing energy management systems, solar water heaters, advanced irrigation and other technologies that make our restaurants work smarter, not harder and provide real savings and environmental benefits.

Team Members

Employees are a company’s greatest ambassadors and can reach consumers in ways advertising will never achieve. Many of the companies participating in the Summit were interested in how leading companies are empowering their employees to share the message of sustainability. For Coca-Cola, employees are critical to meeting their goals to become water-neutral by 2020, finding ways to make the production of their products more efficient. Disney shared how their employee green teams were working within the parks, resorts and other facilities to reduce emissions 50% and achieve 60% waste diversion by 2020. Without employee engagement, companies cannot achieve their targets.

Darden’s Sustainability Teams have been an essential part of achieving a 12% reduction in energy use and 15% reduction in water use in each of our restaurants. They are bringing new ideas and their passion to make an impact in the world by supporting efforts to run a more efficient restaurant. Green Teams are critical to Darden’s goal to achieve Zero Waste and have been an integral part of the organic recycling pilots occurring in Orlando.

Companies are becoming increasingly pressured to manage a host of environmental concerns; however, it’s important to develop a simple framework for managing complex issues. For Darden, we are addressing future challenges and finding ways to leverage innovative new technologies to advance our goals to reduce energy and water 15% by 2015.

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