Corporate Eye

Carl’s Jr Goes Green

It wasn’t long ago that Hugh Hefner was the spokesman for Carl’s Jr.  Things have changed at the fast food chain, and the new focus is on the environment.  CKE Restaurants, the company that owns Carl’s Jr., is trying to reposition the brand as green by opening what it claims is the first of many green restaurants hitting the United States. 

The debut eco-friendly Carl’s Jr. restaurant is in Carpinteria, California, and according to BrandWeek, it includes, “Energy Star rated equipment, solar reflective roofing materials, a rainwater reuse system, a smart irrigation system for the landscaping and LED parking lot lights.”  The company plans to “measure and evaluate” the green elements of the new restaurant, and if they’re successful, the company will roll them out to more locations. 

CKE Restaurants seems to be very serious about their green initiatives and even has a “Green Team” in place to lead the charge.  BrandWeek reports that the company is implementing other green practices such as, “paperless communications, recycling used cooking oil, using post-consumer fibers in packaging and introducing 100 percent recycled carry out bags by year’s end in all locations.”

I’m certainly supportive of any company that puts the environment at the top of the priority list, but I’ve never put the words “green” and “Carl’s Jr.” together.  I’ve never put the words “fast food” and “green” together for that matter.  It’s a branding dichotomy (I say that with a somewhat sarcastic tone).  Will consumers be able to make the connection and value it? 

In other words, will going green give the Carl’s Jr. brand or business a boost?  Of course, one could argue that it shouldn’t matter how the initiatives affect the bottom-line, it should be about protecting the planet.  However, consumers are typically motivated more by their wallets and the value they get for the dollar than whether or not a fast food restaurant is using a rainwater reuse system.  It’s unfortunate, but it’s still the reality in 2009. 

I guess my question is this – how can Carl’s Jr. leverage their green initiatives to give their brand a boost beyond adding the “eco-friendly” tagline to their logo that so many other companies use?  The steps the company is taking are not cheap.  Will Carl’s Jr. see an adequate return? 

What are your thoughts and predictions?

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Susan Gunelius is the author of 10 marketing, social media, branding, copywriting, and technology books, and she is President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company. She also owns Women on Business, an award-wining blog for business women. She is a featured columnist for and, and her marketing-related articles have appeared on websites such as,,, and more. She has over 20 years of experience in the marketing field having spent the first decade of her career directing marketing programs for some of the largest companies in the world, including divisions of AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include large and small companies around the world and household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more. Susan is frequently interviewed about marketing and branding by television, radio, print, and online media organizations, and she speaks about these topics at events around the world. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+.