Eating fast food is often the last thing on an eco-conscious mind, but sometimes it’s necessary. Fortunately, many of the famous chains are taking strides to go green. Next time you’re in need of a quick bite, think about the green initiatives of these eateries.

Taco Bell, KFC & Pizza Hut

Yum! Brands Inc. has a lot on its plate — the company is responsible for more than 44,000 KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut restaurants across the globe.

In a demonstration of environmental stewardship, the company is a member of the United States Green Building Council and has built more than 30 LEED-certified buildings around the world. Yum! Brands plans to incorporate the methods used in their LEED-certified green buildings in all other locations. In building sustainable restaurants, they are dedicated to conserving water, boosting energy efficiency and reducing waste. Yum! Brands sources their ingredients — palm oil, namely — sustainably.

Taco Bell is also a go-to for many of us who are opting for meatless options. Skipping meat drastically reduces your carbon footprint, but eating out isn’t always vegetarian-friendly. Taco Bell is actually a leading fast food restaurant with numerous tasty vegetarian options. You can customize any of their menu items by substituting black beans for meat.

Taco Bell’s 7-Layer Burrito is a popular vegetarian item. Photo: Joshua Blanchard/Getty Images for Taco Bell


America’s favorite fast food chain recently announced that they will eliminate foam packaging by the end of the year. That’s an eco-friendly feat in itself, but the company has gone even further — McDonald’s has committed to sourcing 100 percent of their packaging from renewable or recycled sources by 2025.

As Starbucks has learned with its paper cups, proper recycling requires appropriate infrastructure, regulations and consumer behavior. With restaurants in more than 100 countries and territories around the world, McDonald’s has their work cut out for them.

In addition, McDonald’s has set a variety of environmental goals to reach by 2020, including buying sustainable beef, serving whole foods and increasing energy efficiency in restaurants.


“Eat Fresh” is this health-oriented chain’s slogan, and Subway is known for nutritious sandwich and salad choices. They’re seldom recognized, however, for their feats in sustainability. Subway is dedicated to sourcing ingredients from environmentally responsible suppliers. Many of these suppliers are family farms that have been committed to environmental stewardship for generations and often use eco-friendly tactics, like fuel-efficient tractors and energy-harvesting solar panels, to manage their farms.

Subway prioritizes sustainable sourcing for its sandwiches. Photo: Nakano

Produce isn’t the only ingredient you have to think about as an environmentalist — meat and seafood must be sustainably harvested, too. Subway partners with meat and seafood suppliers that share their commitment to sustainability.

Subway also sources their ingredients locally, whenever possible, to cut down on food miles and consequent greenhouse gas emissions. In the United States, 100 percent of the standard beverages, salty snacks, beef, pork, poultry, cheese, eggs, sauces, dressings, soup, yogurt packaging paper and cleaning chemicals used are produced in the U.S.


All meals come with a side of energy efficiency at Wendy’s. They’re determined to be the best of the best when it comes to energy conservation in restaurants and have begun to make progress on this initiative in a variety of ways. For example, all new and remodeled Wendy’s restaurants are equipped with energy-saving LED lights inside and out.

Wendy’s is also an active participant in the Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Challenge, committing to reducing their energy consumption by 20 percent by 2025. Wendy’s has already reported a 12 percent reduction in energy usage since announcing their participation in the challenge.


This south-of-the-border-themed eatery goes beyond composting kitchen scraps and recycling cardboard. Chipotle reduces waste by giving their used equipment and furniture new homes rather than sending them to the landfill. Chipotle donated more than 75 grills and 315 food processors to local schools, nonprofits and other organizations in 2014. Chipotle’s large-item recycling program is doing wonders to keep bulky equipment away from landfills and to enrich organizations in need.

Chipotle reduces food waste by donating meals to those in need. Photo: Mozart

Chipotle also keeps waste at a minimum by letting their suppliers know they’d like their shipments packed with as little extra padding — like cardboard — as possible. They train their employees to be mindful when preparing their food, so as to create as little waste as possible.

In 2007, Chipotle started the Harvest Program to generate meals from their leftovers for those in need. Over 7 million meals have been donated to more than 1,000 community organizations through this program.

Plus, they make going vegetarian easy by offering shredded tofu braised with peppers and spices as a protein option on all of their menu items. That’s a win for the planet!

By Lauren Murphy

Lauren has a B.S. in environmental science, a crafting addiction, and a love for all things Pacific Northwest. She writes from her cozy downtown apartment tucked in the very northwestern corner of the continental U.S. Lauren spends her time writing and focusing on a healthy, simple and sustainable lifestyle.