WASHINGTON – Currently among the most popular segments in US foodservice, operators are striving to make food trucks more eco-friendly, say industry experts. Since food trucks are proliferating so rapidly, they're increasing the number of foodservice places that can engineer sustainability into the operation from the tires up, according to the National Restaurant Association.

Rolling out sustainable food trucks is a developing trend that overlays both the mobile sector as well as conventional restaurants, said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the NRA’s Research & Knowledge Group. Food truck operators are confident their customers, who tend to be younger, value their sustainability efforts, he added.

Since sustainability is a major point of interest for foodservice operators, it's only natural that it has taken hold within the food-truck segment, said Chris Moyer, subject matter expert for the NRA's Conserve Sustainability Education Program.

"Food trucks that run on biofuels or use renewable energy, like solar power, typically are viewed as more sustainable," he added. "Ones that minimize packaging or use recyclable or compostable materials to pack the finished products also are seen as more sustainable. And if you have room inside the vehicle, it's relatively easy to collect recyclables."

Green Truck co-founders Kam Miceli and Mitchell Collier decided not to use the commissary that fed most of the quilted-stainless-steel food trucks known to fans and detractors alike as "roach coaches," that populated the mobile market before the Green Truck debuted in Los Angeles in 2006. They opted to build their own commissary and installed solar panels on the roof.

"Today, we don't have any electricity bills, and when it's really sunny out we put some power into the grid," said David Holtze, partner, who joined Miceli and Collier in their mobile venture in 2010. He operates their second Green Truck in San Diego.

Both vehicles utilize diesel engines that burn used oil from Green Truck's fryers; the fuel conversion is processed by an outside party. All disposables provided with meals are biodegradable, and the water used inside the Los Angeles-based truck is contained and later reused for cleaning its exteriors. Even bottled water sold on the Green Truck is desalinated Pacific Ocean water that is packaged in biodegradable or recyclable containers, Holtze said.

Many of these sustainable efforts carry a premium price, but "it's what we believe in," Holtze said. "I couldn't ethically do otherwise." Yet, the Green Truck's commitment to sustainability is "marketing gold ... huge. It's helped us get a number of catering jobs,” he added.

This year, the total number of food trucks in the US are expected to grow rapidly. Sixty-one percent of respondents in the NRA's most recent annual survey of nearly 1,800 American Culinary Federation chefs said they would consider launching one—and the chances are some will have sustainable features of some type.