The chain’s high-quality building materials also help keep its environments safe for employees and guests. The company looks specifically for materials that don’t contain volatile organic compounds (vocs), substances that are dangerous to breathe in and that are present in particle board, many paints and adhesives, and other common building materials. “If someone comes into a new MIXT, before we start preparing food, they shouldn’t smell anything. That new-building or new-car smell comes from dangerous chemicals,” Silverglide says.
Healthy environments are factored into the LEED certification criteria, a holistic rating system that evaluates energy efficiency, water conservation, waste management, transportation, and the human experience. Restaurants have ample opportunities to make their stores greener and improve quickly or incrementally over time, Young says.
For brands looking to increase structural sustainability on a budget, USGBC offers educational sessions on everything from negotiating green lease terms to upping energy efficiency. Many of these tools are available for free, while LEED credentials can be an added cost.
MIXT has used the free USGBC resources to help evolve the brand along with the green building movement, but Silverglide says credential costs prevent the chain from becoming LEED-certified. Instead, the team follows the LEED guidelines, seeks out certified buildings for new leases, and advocates for green business practices among other restaurants and in the cities and neighborhoods where it builds stores.
KFC franchisees decide themselves if they want to pursue LEED certification, but have strong encouragement from corporate to follow the brand’s set of construction standards, part of the brand’s Building Green program. Ukey says KFC has benefited from LEED, even among stores that aren’t certified. “Our LEED buildings serve as incubators of innovation to test opportunities to reduce energy and water consumption, learn about green building materials, evaluate site design, and improve waste-handling in ways that make good business sense and leave a lighter footprint on the planet,” she says.
The efforts aren’t without payoff: From 2005 to 2017, KFC and Yum! Brands reduced energy by 22 percent and water consumption by 10 percent among company-owned and participating franchise units. Ukey says the company aims to reduce both water and energy usage by an added 10 percent by 2025.
There’s never been a better time to make these kinds of changes, either, as green building codes are increasingly mandated by cities. “[Climate change is] a man-made problem, and it’s going to take human-driven solutions. Green building is definitely one of the best ways companies can take climate action and support an immediate impact,” Young says.