When you drink the water, remember the spring.
— Chinese proverb
Maybe, like a lot of people, you don’t think too much about water. You turn on the tap, expecting it to always be there. You wash your hands, and watch it go down the drain. At Darden, with more than 1,500 restaurants, we’ve got a lot of taps and drains, and we think a lot about water.
As part of our commitment to being good stewards of the environment, Darden has reduced its water use per restaurant more than 25% on average since 2009, surpassing our goal of a 15% reduction by 2015. And we continue to do so. Over the past year alone, Darden cut its water use by an additional 10 million gallons, which is equivalent to filling 16 Olympic-sized swimming pools. “It’s a huge accomplishment for any water user, let alone a restaurant, to reduce its water consumption by more than a fourth,” said Darden Sustainability Manager Kristine Young.
To commemorate Earth Day on April 22, we decided to follow the trail of water entering and leaving one of our restaurants. Where does the water come from? Where does it go?
For our detective work, we chose the Olive Garden restaurant on 5th Avenue South in Naples, FL, for two reasons. Over the last year alone, this Olive Garden location reduced its water use 13%, and it’s located near Everglades National Park and the Big Cypress National Preserve, which are some of the nation’s most significant, biodiverse ecosystems.
The restaurant’s water comes full circle, in a sense. When the taps are turned on at the Olive Garden, water flows out that came from the City of Naples Water Treatment Plant, which collects the spring water from the Lower Tamiami Aquifer and purifies it.
When water leaves the restaurant, it’s treated at the Naples Wastewater Treatment Plant and stored for reuse during the dry season or discharged into the Gordon River after purifying chemicals are removed. The Big Cypress Swamp Watershed, which contains natural ecosystems such as Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in the western Everglades that are connected to our restaurant water, is both the source and destination of the water.
Corkscrew Swamp, 30 miles east of Naples, is significant as part of the Florida Everglades ecosystem. It contains one of the last virgin cypress forests in North America, with trees as large as 130 feet tall and 25 feet wide. It’s also home to hundreds of birds, alligators, otters, deer and turtles. Like all wetlands, Corkscrew does much more than shelter endangered plants and animals; the swamp filters and purifies water and recharges groundwater in aquifers.
Wetlands are among the most productive ecosystems in the world, comparable to rain forests and coral reefs. “Wetlands are important not just because of nature and pretty birds and preserving habitat for alligators,” Kristine said. “The health of our freshwater system is paramount to human survival.”
We’ve conserved water largely by adopting water-saving cooking technologies, installing low-flow sinks and testing eco-friendly irrigation systems at our restaurants. Whether it’s replacing our pasta cookers at Olive Garden or serving water only by request at Seasons 52, we will continue to do our part.
If you want to learn more about Darden’s sustainability journey, go to www.darden.com/sustainability.