LONDON (Reuters Life!) - "Be a legend in your own lunchtime," says an advertisement in the London underground for Otarian, a new vegetarian fast-food chain which hopes to play a small part in the fight against climate change.
Australia-based owner and founder Radhika Oswal opened two Otarian outlets in New York earlier this year and two more in London last month. The chain offers over 20 vegetarian meals to eat in or take away, including a field mushroom burger, sweet potato fries and a tandoori mushroom and paneer wrap.
The menu claims diners can save an average 2.3 kg (5 lb) of carbon dioxide equivalent by swapping their usual meat-based lunch for an Otarian "combo" meal.
Meat production is estimated to account for 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions according to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization, and some scientists have cited lower meat consumption as a way to tackle climate change.
Otarian is part of Oswal's family business Oswal Group Global, which has $5 billion of investment capital and a wide range of assets including an ammonia plant in Australia.
Diners will have their own motives for visiting Otarian -- increased air miles, an aircon unit, neglecting recycling.
"People want to do the right thing and most people today are environmentally conscious but are time poor, money conscious and don't understand the personal impact they can make in their daily lives," Oswal told Reuters.
Located in trendy London areas Soho and Covent Garden, the chain can target shoppers and tourists at lunchtime. But it faces stiff competition from more established fast-food outlets and a diverse range of restaurants.
"From eco-sourcing and carbon reduction to composting, sustainable packaging and building design, Otarian goes a big step further than other sustainable restaurants through quantifying the impact of our sustainable business," Oswal said.
To achieve the Otarian's low-carbon brand, Oswal had to pay a premium -- for a renewable energy supplier, compostable packaging, waste management, decor and ingredients.
Meals are priced between 3.95 and 6.25 pounds ($6.00-$9.60) -- a couple of pounds more than some chains in the area.
"Eating sustainably is still a new concept and my greatest challenge remains in providing great tasting, sustainable food accessible to the masses at an affordable price," Oswal said.
Otarian recycles, composts, recovers or reuses 98 percent of restaurant waste. Recycled glass tiles are used in the floors, the chairs are made from sustainably sourced bamboo and the tables from recycled plastic resin.
It does not air-freight ingredients and tries to source as locally as possible. Otarian sourced compostable and recyclable packaging down to the stickers on the burger wrappers.
It uses innovative materials like bagasse, a by-product of the sugar industry, and worked with British packaging firm Vegware to source the first fully compostable soup cup and lid.
However, when eating in, packaging is still present. Isn't it better for the environment to serve food on plates?
The Indian-born entrepreneur says this would require more staff to serve customers, driving up prices on the menu.
"I often get this question. It is like asking -- why buy a hybrid car when you can ride a bike or walk? But are we willing to get rid of driving a car just yet even for all those more sustainable modes of transport? If not, wouldn't it be more sustainable to at least drive the hybrid, if one can, rather than a fuel guzzler?"
Editing by Paul Casciato