In just three hours, Alyssa and Adrian Tangerine’s 16-foot kitchen can pump out enough meals for over 225 people. “We’re a two-man show,” says co-owner Alyssa Tangerine. “Together we do all the cooking, serving, and marketing.”

For a business that’s been operating for less than six months, the numbers might seem incredible. But that’s because their restaurant, the Toronto-based Toasted Tangerine is part of a new wave of mobile eateries—food trucks.

It’s a trend that’s focused on gourmet meals but also—and perhaps counter-intuitively—on environmental sustainability. “A food truck uses way less energy than a brick-and-mortar restaurant does,” explains Tangerine.

Suresh Doss, organizer of Food Truck Eats agrees. “Trucks are more eco-friendly. There’s a lot of waste with restaurants,” he says.

Per square foot, restaurants rank amongst the most energy-intensive commercial spaces in North America, using between 2.5 and five times more energy than other commercial buildings. The energy required to run a deep fryer alone for one year could power an entire home for two years.

Unlike their greasy fumes-emitting and gas-guzzling cousins—the hamburger trucks of yesteryear—today’s gourmet food trucks are demonstrating that serving up affordable and fresh food doesn’t have to come at a high environmental cost.

And if you’re running a bricks-and-mortar place, well, there are still lessons to learn:

1. Use every drop of water as though it’s your last.

By their very nature, food trucks are forced to conserve resources. With just 16 feet of preparation space, every inch must be used efficiently.

On the Toasted Tangerine, space restrictions prevent them from owning energy-intensive equipment such as industrial dishwashers. Energy comes at a premium and there’s as little as 40 gallons of water available per day. “Having limited access to water truly does make you more cautious about consumption,” says Tangerine.

To mimic the food truck mentality of finite resources, consider installing water saving and energy efficient appliances.

2. Encourage your customers to travel by foot, bicycle or public transit.

The gourmet food truck movement has been largely driven by social media, a practice that results in large numbers of customers arriving on foot.

At Nuit Blanche, Toronto’s annual all-night art festival, 12 trucks and 12 tent vendors served 20,000 diners who arrived by foot or public transit—a number that would be unfathomable for restaurants to match.

By encouraging your customers to use alternate transportation methods, you’ll significantly reduce the indirect environmental impacts caused by dining out. (Hint: providing bike racks is a step in the right direction.)

3. Invest in energy-efficient fixtures and appliances.

The average lifespan of a restaurant is just five years, with renovations to existing spaces coming at a high environmental cost.

While food trucks are often purchased used, they can be refurbished for maximum environmental efficiency. Along with state-of-the-art kitchen equipment, the Toasted Tangerine boasts a custom-built generator that runs on a propane, a cleaner-burning fuel.

Modifications to engines and generators are only the beginning, though. Los Angeles’ Green Truck is fuelled by used cooking oil. It also has four solar panels, which allows the truck to generate more than enough power on a sunny day. By upcycling cooking products and generating their own electricity, food trucks are able to minimize their impact and lower operating costs through self-sufficiency.

While it’s unlikely that you’ll power your restaurant with biofuel (although you may be able to use your used fryer oil to generate electricity), your establishment may be able to follow the Green Trucks’ example and install solar panels. If not, be conscious of energy-efficiency when purchasing appliances or completing renovations.

What do you think? Tempted to start food truck? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.

Image credit: BizEnergy