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A Green Sweep

Leading the restaurant industry to change its ways, this Ted’s Montana Grill founder goes far beyond merely being green.

As he sips on a biodegradable paper straw, in his cornstarch to-go cup inside his luxury Fisker hybrid, McKerrow cites sustainably minded restaurants­—such as Miller Union, Restaurant Eugene, Aria, Canoe and those in the Fifth Group (see Ecco’s rooftop garden)—as other beacons of change in Atlanta’s restaurant scene.

How does this powerful CEO and owner of Canoe  get around the city? In his Fisker Karma ES, of course. George McKerrow Jr. charges the plug-in, hybrid luxury sports car daily in the company’s electric 220-volt charger at the Ted Turner Building in downtown Atlanta, saving countless fill-ups throughout the year. But that’s only a little slice of what he’s doing for our natural resources.

McKerrow, who grew up on a dairy farm and Boy-Scouted his way through adolescence, has always been a staunch advocate of the environment. After the massive success of his Long Horn Steakhouse franchise, he teamed up with like-minded titan Ted Turner in 2002 for a restaurant venture unlike any other. Ted’s Montana Grill set out to restore the bison populations native to North America (their numbers have since doubled), partly by educating consumers and creating demand for this tasty, healthy meat. It also adopted non-negotiable eco practices—from biodegradable soap in the bathrooms and kitchen, to cutlery and to-go cups made of cornstarch, to water- and energy-efficient systems, all Ted’s locations are aggressive about preserving resources. In 2012 alone, they recycled more than 370 tons of waste and converted 9,500 gallons of used frying oil into biodiesel fuel. “We only have one Earth to live on. If we don’t protect it, we won’t have a place to live and enjoy life,” McKerrow says. “That’s why it’s so important to be an advocate for a sustainable environment.”

In 2007, Turner and McKerrow harnessed their passion with The Green Restaurant Revolution tour, traveling to major national markets to educate food industry members about the changes they, too, can make. More than a million members in the National Restaurant Association have had a chance to hear their eco gospel and they continue speaking today. “We try to live by example,” says McKerrow, who was just named 2013 Restaurateur of the Year by Share Our Strength. Back at their Atlanta HQ—one of the nation’s first Zero Waste Zone mixed-use building—you’ll find 25 solar canopies, which offset 20 percent of the building’s energy consumption, as well as three plug-in meters for electric and hybrid vehicles in the parking lot (which boasts gray asphalt to curb Atlanta heat). The Ted’s on Luckie Street was recently tied into this solar grid, too.

So, what’s next? First, a partnership with the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, which, through Water Restoration Certificates, will return five million gallons of water to depleted rivers and streams in the Colorado River basin. They’re also teaming up with Greener Fields Together, a national push for farm-to-table food sourcing focused on local, family-owned and organic farms. “[Environmental concerns] are becoming standard business practices as perspectives shift. I’ve been around the industry for a long time. I care about Atlanta and the world we live in. I care about the next generation and my grandchildren, and I’ve got the courage to talk about it.”