At the heart of The Cheesecake Factory Incorporated is a set of guiding principles based on excellence and quality in everything we do. To achieve excellence, we know we must strive to continuously improve upon our past accomplishments. We are committed to doing what is right, conducting ourselves with integrity, and ensuring that our actions follow the highest ethical and professional standards.
We embrace sustainability with these values in mind. For us, the term “sustainability” informs how we operate in relation not only to the environment but also to the food we serve, the staff members we employ, and the communities in which we are located.
Becoming a sustainable company requires an open mind and a lot of hard work and patience. No company is 100% there yet! Every day, and at every level of our business, we continue to find ways to reduce our impact on the planet. We ask tough questions about how and where we can improve. These conversations force us to challenge the status quo—to innovate sustainably and look for ways to reduce our environmental impact.
We are examining all aspects of our business in an effort to identify, create, and implement meaningful and sustained change. Currently, our sustainability efforts are focused on our Company-owned restaurants, offices and bakeries in the USA. As we expand globally, we intend to engage with our local licensees to both encourage sustainable practices appropriate for the environment in which they operate and to learn from their successes as well.
Raising the Sustainability Bar
- Lighting: Following an assessment of the light bulbs we use in all of our restaurants, we completed a re-lamp in each restaurant by installing low wattage bulbs. This change reduced our kilowatt usage by 2% to 3% ongoing each year based on a standard 10,000 square foot restaurant. In addition, we upgrade our lighting to more energy efficient products as they become available, and we are currently testing new LED lighting to replace neon lights, which are currently being used in certain areas of our restaurants.
- Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning (HVAC): We are installing energy efficient HVAC models in all of our new restaurants and as replacement units in our older restaurants. We select HVAC units with the highest possible Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) rating.
- Kitchen Ventilation: We tested an innovative demand ventilation system at our restaurant in Pleasanton, CA, which automatically adjusts the exhaust and make up air fan speed by measuring the temperature, steam, and smoke in the hood. By having the fan speed ramp up or down as needed, the amount of energy used compared to standard fans is significantly reduced by as high as 60%. We are now in the process of rolling out the system to approximately 80 locations, potentially reducing our energy use by as much as 63,000 kWh's per location.
We are always looking for ways to improve the design and function of our buildings and are currently exploring green building techniques and materials in our LEED certified training center in Calabasas, CA and in our LEED certified restaurants across the country.
- Solar Thermal System: We installed a solar thermal system consisting of 20 solar panels and an 800-gallon solar water tank in one restaurant to test the use of renewable energy source to heat our water. Based on an evaluation by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), this solar thermal system may help us reduce our carbon emissions by approximately 43,000 pounds per year. To learn more about this test, please read the PG&E case study, which is available on their website.
- Energy Saving Best Practices Guide: Working in conjunction with an energy consultant, we prepared a best practices guide to educate our restaurant operators on ways to minimize energy consumption in their restaurants.
- Corporate Support Center: We recently completed the addition of solar photovoltaic panels on our corporate support center in Calabasas, CA. These panels provide energy for our LEED Training Center and for the IT backup support systems. We were able to increase our backup capabilities tenfold without drawing additional energy from the grid.
We are in the process of improving our shipping and transport efficiency, so that we are able to get our ingredients to our restaurants more quickly and with fewer miles on the road. This results in fresher ingredients for the restaurants and fewer carbon emissions for the planet.
Where possible, we have installed flow control valves in the sinks in our restaurants (including restroom, utility and hand sinks), as well as switching to water brooms to clean our patio floors. The valves and the water brooms restrict the water outflow, thereby reducing our water and sewer usage
- Organic Waste Digester: In 18 of our restaurants, we installed 800-pound organic waste decomposition machines that process leftover food, such as fruits, vegetables, meats, poultry, fish, and other food waste. These machines' only byproduct is wastewater that drains into our sewer system. In addition to reducing the volume of our waste that goes into landfills, the digester also reduces the frequency of our trash pickup and our use of industrial trash bags.
- Composting: We have implemented full-scale composting systems in 50 of our restaurants. This extensive program was primarily driven by input from our highly engaged staff members, and includes sorting of food out of the waste stream in our prep kitchens, bakery and bar as well as bus tubs.
- Recycling: We mandate the use of 100% recycled material in our paper napkins and paper towels. In addition, our paper napkins are made by a new, state-of-the-art machine that produces napkins twice as fast while using half the amount of energy. In our West Coast bakery facility, we are in our fifth year of a recycling program, which includes scrap metals, organic waste and paper, plastic, and corrugated cardboard waste. From the inception of the program in April 2011 through the end of last year, our West Coast bakery saved approximately 5,000 trees, 100,000 gallons of oil, 1 million kilowatts of electricity, 15,000 pounds of air pollution, 2 million gallons of water, and 1,000 cubic yards of landfill space. We are developing a similar program at our East Coast bakery.
- Waste Services: We evaluated our current waste services in each of our restaurants and completed a 'right-sizing' program to modify trash collection at each restaurant based on need rather than a standardized schedule.
- Our restaurant to-go boxes are made of a Polypropylene (PP) base and a Polyethylene (PETE) lid. Both PP and PETE are highly recyclable resins. In addition, we established a specific case size of our to-go boxes to maximize each truckload, resulting in fewer deliveries, less fuel utilized and fewer emissions.
- In our bakery facilities, we eliminated the use of Styrofoam in packaging our cheesecakes for shipment of e-commerce orders. All of our bakery products ship in recyclable corrugated containers from suppliers that are members of the Corrugated Packaging Alliance.
- We are constantly evaluating new materials and tools for source reduction to ensure the best possible experience for our guests while also reducing our environmental footprint.
Our restaurants are encouraged to form 'Green Teams' to establish goals for their restaurants on additional sustainability actions that can be taken at a local level. Projects include recycling, waste reduction, water conservation, and other steps to drive awareness and change.
SUSTAINABILITY – A TEAM SPORT
As a part of our commitment to sustainability and recognizing our leadership position in the restaurant industry, we partner with a number of organizations and companies in order to work collaboratively on sustainability and bring solutions to scale within our industry. Some of our key partnerships include:
- Natural Capitalism Solutions (NCS): We partnered with Hunter Lovins, an award-winning sustainability expert, and her consulting firm, NCS. Our goal in working with NCS, stems from our recognition that there is an opportunity to go beyond what we are doing today. To continue to build a program that is able to address future sustainability challenges all while creating tangible value for our business.
- Food Waste Reduction Alliance (FWRA): FWRA is a part of the National Restaurant Association and its Converse Green program. We are working with a number of other organizations including Grocery Manufacturers Association, Food Marketing Institute, and other restaurant companies in partnership with FWRA to better understand ways we can reduce and divert food waste from our operations.
- Feeding America: As a “Mission Partner” to Feeding America®, the nation's leading domestic hunger-relief organization, we donated more than $4 million to this organization since 2008 and work with this important organization on an ongoing basis. For example, each year, we dedicate a portion of our proceeds from one of our featured cakes to Feeding America. Additionally, each September, staff members across the country support “Hunger Action Month,” Feeding America’s month-long campaign to bring awareness to and help fight domestic hunger, by donating peanut butter to local food banks. In 2016, our generous staff members donated more than 225,000 pounds of peanut butter.
- Harvest Program: We also participate in the Harvest Program, a national program through which our restaurants donate surplus food to local and regional feeding agencies for distribution to soup kitchens and homeless shelters. Since inception of the program in 2008, our restaurants have donated more than 4 million pounds of food, the equivalent of 4 million meals.
- Local Giving: Our restaurants participate in a Gift Card Donation Program, providing gift cards to local schools and charities for fundraisers and auctions. Since formalizing our Gift Card Donation Program in 2007, we have donated more than $7 million in gift cards to our local communities.
- Collaboration: Thinking beyond the actions of our own company, we are partnering with a number of other companies, NGO’s, and many fellow restaurateurs to pursue sustainability solutions that we, alone, could not do. We are always looking for partners who are interested in working with us to build a more sustainable future.