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Darden Restaurants launches green design initiative

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Orlando, Fla. Darden Restaurants has begun a chain-wide sustainable restaurant design initiative involving the use of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards in its restaurant design process for all new restaurants and, where feasible, restaurant remodels. The initiative is part of Darden's broader sustainability efforts aimed at limiting business impact on the environment while also enhancing the operational efficiency of its restaurants.

Darden's three largest brands -- Red Lobster, Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse -- are designing eight restaurants to achieve LEED certification. The first of the eight, an Olive Garden location in Jonesboro, Ark., opened last month. One more Olive Garden and two Red Lobsters are scheduled to open in 2010, followed by one Olive Garden, two Red Lobsters and one LongHorn Steakhouse in 2011.

"Our goal with this initiative is to utilize each of the eight restaurants as a learning lab," said Suk Singh, senior VP development for Darden. "While we may not seek LEED certification for every restaurant we build or remodel, we can make a positive impact by learning from the eight restaurants where we are seeking LEED certification and applying best practices across our entire portfolio.

The sustainable design elements featured in the new Olive Garden in Jonesboro, Ark., include:

  • Recycled building materials: Supplies such as sheetrock, doors and windows were made from recycled content. The flooring features carpet squares made from 100% recycled materials.

  • Increased use of natural light: Incorporating more windows more frequently into the building's exterior reduces the need for artificial light.

  • Energy efficient equipment and fixtures: Items such as Energy Star rated equipment and low-flow water nozzles in the kitchen, as well as automatic faucets in the restrooms, reduce energy and water usage. New LED light bulbs that utilize seven watts of energy and last up to 50,000 hours replace bulbs that used 75 watts and had to be changed two to three times a year.

  • Reclaimed heat: To supplement the heating of hot water in the kitchen, heat expelled from the condensing units of the HVAC system and the freezer/cooler condensing units is reclaimed and used to heat water.

Darden’s corporate headquarters facility in Orlando, Fla., is on track to earn LEED Gold certification.