Cutting costs? Consider new sustainability options

Advances in sustainability know-how and technology can help restaurants cut operating costs regardless of how large their greening budget might be, experts stressed during a recent National Restaurant Association educational event.

“At times this can be an overwhelming subject—there’s talk about green and sustainability everywhere you go,” said Jenni Bair, marketing manager for Hobart and one of two LEED experts participating in the webinar. “Just remember that any program that lowers your impact on the environment is a good thing.”

And a practical one, she stressed. Merely by purchasing kitchen equipment that earns an Energy Star efficiency rating under a federal program, “you can cut your energy use by 45 percent,” said Bair.

Similarly, restaurateurs can slash their water use by selecting from a greatly expanded array of efficient ware washers, steamers and other pieces of one-time water hogs, said Nick Shaffer, Bair’s fellow panelist for the webinar. Shaffer is manager of commercial real estate for the U.S. Green Building Council.

Bair stressed that there are a number of simple ways that restaurateurs can cut their energy, water and waste-removal expenses starting today. She recommended they begin by comparing their monthly bills from the utility company, the water department and the waste hauler.

“Pick the one that you pay the most for and start working on it,” said Bair.

For instance, if your trash bill is the most painful to pay, look at what you’re throwing out. If it’s surplus food, consider donating it to a local charity, she advised.

For a more-systematic approach, consider LEED certification, suggested Shaffer. The organization awards the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design designation to commercial facilities that select enough green actions off a checklist of recommended steps.

Shaffer noted that the checklist for restaurants and other retail establishments was updated last November to be more realistic. For instance, employees might work in a restaurant for “6, 8, 10 hours,” he said. Customers might be there for “6, 8, 10 minutes.” Yet the old LEED standards focused on patrons.

“We wanted to give employees the benefits of a green building and not orient everything toward the customer,” Shaffer said. He noted how the new standards promote such employee-friendly practices as using more “daylighting,” even in restaurant kitchens.

The revised standards also look at aspects of a retail establishment like its furnishings and how green they may be.

He focused during his presentation on the LEED standard for waste reduction. To earn points toward certification, a restaurant first has to conduct a waste audit, or an analysis of all it’s throwing out, to determine the five biggest components of the trash. Then it has to draft procedures for lowering the volume of the top three.

The payback from the steps that qualify a restaurant for LEED certification can be huge, Shaffer stressed. He noted how Darden Restaurants, the parent of Olive Garden and Red Lobster, is undertaking a major sustainability initiative, including the development of several prototypes designed to earn a LEED designation. Part of the effort is replacing incandescent bulbs with LED lights.

The changeover will save each restaurant $500 a month, said Shaffer. Multiplied by the company’s 1,800 units, that’s a savings of $39 million over five years, he noted.

(Source: National Restaurant Association)

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