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Chick-Fil-A Goes Green, but Keeps the White Napkins

Chick-fil-A's first store designed to meet environmental design standards, opening this week in Fort Worth, will feature energy efficient appliances, low-flow restroom fixtures and a cistern for plant irrigation, but the fast food chain's still isn't ready to institute unbleached paper napkins.

David Farmer, vice president of innovation and service, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the restaurant is considering using brown paper napkins "that would require less processing and energy to make." But a spokesperson says there's no clear timeline for when Chick-Fil-A might make the switchover from white napkins.

"Chick-fil-A is still in the early stages of development in our environmental stewardship initiative," Kim Hardcastle explains.

The Green Restaurant Association, a non-profit organization that supports environmental responsibility in the restaurant industry, doesn't compile statistics on which chains use unbleached napkins. But spokesperson Jennifer Fleck says anecdotal evidence suggests an increasing number of fast food restaurants are ditching their white napkins.

"I've seen a number," Fleck says. "Just going out, you can see more restaurants are adopting them."

While the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification program doesn't cover napkin selection, the Green Restaurant Association recommends eateries make the unbleached choice.

"When chlorine is used to bleach paper, the process can also result in the formation of harmful chemicals such as dioxins and furans, which are known to cause cancer in humans," Fleck explains in an e-mail.

In 2008, when McDonald's Canada contemplated switching to unbleached napkins, it conducted a test run in the western part of the country.

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"Results showed no negatives customer feedback relative to the changes, and indicated that customers were actually using fewer napkins," the company reported.

McDonald's Canada annually saves $1.3 million by using unbleached napkins and bags, according to the report.

Hardcastle wasn't sure why Chick-fil-A uses white napkins, although it seems reasonable to presume consumers associate the color with refinement and sanitation. Still, she stressed a napkin switch might be forthcoming.

"The napkin is one piece in our planned packaging redesign," Hardcastle says. "We don't have definitive timing on when that will roll out to restaurants."

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