It is difficult to walk around the Boston area without seeing one of Boloco’s 18 restaurants serving up smoothies and the company’s signature “inspired burritos” to hungry passers-by. Boloco (“Boston Local Company”) was founded in Back Bay in 1996 and has since spread throughout the metro area and beyond, with locations including Northeastern University, Harvard Square, Tufts, Berklee, and several stores downtown. While other fast food burrito chains stick more or less to tried and true Mexican-style ingredients, Boloco pushes the boundary with such unusual burrito offerings as the “Bangkok Thai” (meat, peanut sauce, “Asian slaw”, and cucumbers) and the “Memphis BBQ” (meat, barbecue sauce, beans and coleslaw). Every combination may not be a winner, but the ever-increasing number of Boloco restaurants is testament to the success of their business model.
Fortunately for those of us who enjoy their products, Boloco is also one of the greenest restaurant chains around. No visit to a Boloco would be complete without a head-scratching moment on the way out, trying to figure out which waste goes in the recycling bin and which is compostable. For example, the company recycles its aluminum foil wrapping, and its corn-based plastic cups and potato starch based silverware are fully compostable. Boloco’s compostable waste is collected by a private hauler called Save That Stuff, and the finished product is sold as a soil enhancement to landscapers. Composting company Harvest Power has an interesting blog post with more details about the implementation of Boloco’s composting program. Also interesting is that its tabletops and counters are made of recycled paper. Boloco became a Green Restaurant Association certified green restaurant in 2008, earned a 2-star Green Restaurant Certification in July, 2011, and was the first chain of restaurants to become certified across all of its locations. In 2010, Boloco was awarded the Mayor’s Green Business Award for “extraordinary performance related to sustainable environmental practices.”
The Green Restaurant Association is a national non-profit organization that runs a voluntary point-based certification program for restaurants. Restaurants are scored in seven categories: water efficiency, waste reduction, furnishings and building materials, sustainable food, energy, disposables, and chemical and pollution reduction (a PDF of the complete scoring standards is available here). Restaurants must meet certain minimums in each category as well as an overall minimum score in order to attain certification. The program also encourages continuing improvement: for every year that a restaurant participates in the program, the minimum number of points necessary to maintain certification increases.
Mayor Menino’s Green Awards are given out annually to “recognize achievements in the residential and business sectors” by exemplary individuals and businesses. Businesses such as Boloco are nominated for the Green Business Award in one of four categories: commercial, industrial, non-profit, and academic, cultural and healthcare institutions. Nominations are considered based on a business’s “sustainable and environmentally beneficial activities” and awards are announced each spring. (A quick shout-out: Congrats to Northeastern University on winning a 2011 Green Business Award!)
With “greenness” often seen as a value-add for high-end boutique businesses, it is refreshing to see companies like Boloco show that sustainable practices are not incompatible with a successful, mainstream business. Hopefully Boloco’s example will encourage its competitors in the fast food industry to adopt many of the same practices. While they do not replace more comprehensive national- or state-level policy solutions, voluntary certification programs such as the Green Restaurant Certification, LEED, and Rainforest Alliance do provide valuable information to consumers while helping to create frameworks for assessing sustainability that could be incorporated into policy at a later time. Similarly, while the Green Awards are commendable for giving recognition to those businesses and individuals that exceed expectations, they do not replace the need for enforceable sustainability standards that apply to all homes and businesses. These are, however, small but important steps in the direction of raising public consciousness of environmental issues. Companies like Boloco deserve credit for being ahead of the pack and setting visible examples of sustainable practices in action.