REFLECTIONS / EARTH DAY 1970-1990 : 'We only have one planet . . . we all have a social responsibility'

Peter Morton is the owner of the Hard Rock cafes.

You have just squeezed your way into the frenetic Hard Rock Cafe.

Music is pulsing from speakers throughout the trendy yet touristy restaurant. Rock and roll memorabilia is everywhere. Over there are guitars once used by David Bowie and the late Roy Orbison. And here is the dress Madonna wore on the cover of Life magazine.

For the legions of customers who spend at least $80 million a year at the Hard Rock here and in seven other cities, Peter Morton has created a playful and carefree atmosphere. But behind the scenes, there is another side to his operation that Morton insists is no attempt at being hip.

He has turned the Hard Rock into what he believes is a model of environmental action for the restaurant industry. Behind the swinging doors to the kitchen, bus boys separate bottles and paper products for recycling. The restaurant uses only biodegradable take-out containers and serves no tuna caught through methods that injure dolphins. Leftovers are distributed to hunger projects.

The restaurant also sells "Save the Planet" T-shirts and donates the money to the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group that recently named Morton to its board of trustees.

"We only have one planet and we all have a social responsibility to it, in my mind," said Morton, 42, who will preach that message next month in a speech before the national restaurant convention in Chicago.

To mark Earth Day 1990, Morton on Friday night tied his restaurant's identity to the environmental movement in a big way with a music and comedy special on network television. Originating from the restaurant in Los Angeles, it was called "Hard Rock Cafe: Save the Planet."

Twenty years ago, when the first Earth Day was held, Morton was a college student in Denver and not nearly so concerned. "I can't say I was an environmentalist," he recalled. "I just don't think there was enough of an issue at the time to really focus on it."

Since then, Morton added, "I've inhaled a lot of smog."

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