Last week we discussed sustainable planning. When we say something is sustainable, we are saying that is able to be maintained at a certain level or rate. For instance, solar power is considered to be sustainable green energy because it is produced by collecting and converting sunlight into electricity through the use of panels. We consider it to be sustainable because solar energy does not require any fuel, no pollution is created in the process of generating electricity, and because it does not contribute to global warming, acid rain or smog. Sustainability has three components: the social component, the environmental component, and the economic component. For something to be truly sustainable, it must be socially, environmentally, and economically sustainable.

Within the past couple of decades, an environmental push for the sustainable management of resources has led to the creation of more “green” public policy. The green movement pushes for more individual accountability and awareness. Within the United States, many pieces of environmental legislation were passed in the 1970s, including the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act. These pieces of legislation act as the foundations for the current environmental standard within the nation.

Many have cited food trucks as being inherently greener. However, a recent article from The Atlantic Cities reevaluates the validity of this belief. Sara Johnson writes, “Trucks are smaller than restaurants, go directly to their customers, and often source local ingredients. But is buying your lunch from a truck really better for the environment than buying it from a bricks-and-mortar restaurant? Might it, in fact, be worse?”  After comparing the emission rates between two Washington D.C.-based cupcake businesses: Curbside Cupcakes, a food truck, and Red Velvet Cupcakery, a storefront shop, Johnson’s findings are quite interesting. She concludes, “The brick-and-mortar version produces significantly more total greenhouse gas emissions than the food truck, but it serves more customers per hour and is thus responsible for slightly fewer emissions per cupcake.” The author also notes that many cities require food truck operators to prepare their food out of a commissary or shared kitchen facility, causing many truck owners to drive back and forth each day. However, the biggest environmental con is the amount of fuel needed for running the truck and powering the generator to run cooking equipment.

In the end the author notes that there are a variety of factors that go into the environmental impact of restaurants and food trucks. Everything from the type of to-go containers to business hours can change the sustainability of food trucks. For instance, San Francisco’s “Off the Grid” food truck events require that all materials be recyclable. Some food trucks even serve food in bread bowl type creations to minimize waste. Like many things in life, deciding which model is greener isn’t as cut and dry as we would like it be.