In the last installment, I began to refute the well known claim made by Kermit the Frog that “it’s not easy being green.” Actually, it is getting much easier with every passing moment. It is becoming more popular. Your guests are beginning to weigh your environmental philosophies when selecting a hotel or restaurant. And, might I suggest that green initiatives can even be profitable.
To briefly revisit my position, I believe that there are three key components to a green program for any hospitality or foodservice operation. First, there are the operational practices and decisions. Second, there are the building related practices which have been developed by other industries and which can be readily adopted. And finally, there are the initiatives, both operational and building related, which are specific to the hospitality industry. These are programs and practices that we must develop – because no one knows our industry better than we do. In the first installment, I explored some simple operational initiatives. This time, I want to explore initiatives related to the building and physical infrastructure.
No Need to Reinvent the Wheel
Nearly every restaurant and hotel has at least one thing in common – they are housed in a physical structure, a building of some sort. Fortunately, there are experts who have been working for years to develop green building practices which consider the environmental impact of the initial construction phase as well as the upkeep and maintenance throughout the building’s life cycle. These guidelines are the result of countless hours of work and research which can be readily adopted by the hospitality industry. There is even an accreditation that has been established for professionals who are skilled in the specific art of helping to create environmentally friendly and sustainable buildings called LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.
Green initiatives that have already been established for other building types can be implemented for both new construction and renovation projects. Below are just a few examples of green building practices that any foodservice or hospitality facility can implement. Please note, however, that there are many others which can be found both on-line and in printed literature.
- Selection and use of energy efficient appliances
- Use of sustainable building materials
- Use of building materials that are derived from recycling of other products
- Construction using materials that use reduced or no toxic chemicals in fabrication
- Use of energy efficient light bulbs, such as compact fluorescent bulbs
- Implementation of energy management systems that lower energy usage, especially during off-peal periods
- Use of water conserving devices
Taking the Next Step
While the implementation of general green building practices is a great first step, to rely solely on these existing initiatives for foodservice and hospitality facilities would, in my opinion, be a half-hearted effort. Our buildings are unique. Specifically, per square foot (or square meter), commercial kitchens are one of the highest ranking users of energy. Consider that according to the Green Restaurant Association’s “A Guide to Creating Environmentally Sustainable Restaurants and Kitchens,” the restaurant industry accounts for a disproportionate one-third of all retail energy use in the United States. The same guide also indicates that restaurants produce an average of 50,000 pounds of garbage per year, of which 95% could be recycled or composted, and use nearly 300,000 gallons of water annually.
It is my belief that we need to begin looking at commercial kitchens in a completely different way – through green colored lenses, if you will. We need to evaluate the kitchen as a complete system, carefully scrutinizing what is going in and what is coming out of our establishments. Because our operations are so distinctive, we cannot simply rely on others to develop a system specific to our needs. We know hospitality operations better than anyone else. It is our responsibility to develop our own industry-specific green practices. We must take the initiative, and we need to do it now.
Sounds Great, But I Need Specific Examples
Okay, all of this may sound great in theory – but let’s talk in specifics. What can we really do? Where would we start? How would we implement these new solutions? These are all valid questions, so let me start the discussion right here, right now by proposing a few such initiatives:
Recycling: It sounds so basic. Many of us recycle at home, where it has become second nature. But how many of us recycle in our restaurants? Why should the restaurant be any different than your home, when the restaurant is generating far more waste? It may be as simple as installing recycling bins, setting aside the space for them in the ware washing area, and training the staff. This is an easy first step.
Packaging: A significant portion of the waste generated by restaurants is from food packaging that has been discarded. Cardboard boxes, aluminum cans, and plastic strapping all contribute this waste. When was the last time that the operations community challenged the packaging decisions made by food manufacturers and purveyors? A comprehensive evaluation of current packaging practices would yield better alternatives that could reduce the amount of waste, and potentially reduce waste related cost at time of purchase and discard. The use of alternative packaging materials combined with new equipment that might be used to reduce the volume of packaging waste could save the environment and perhaps a few pennies at the same time.
Composting: With an estimated 50% of restaurant waste being food, it is quite shocking that composting programs have not become commonplace. This raw food waste, if properly separated, would be quite valuable to growers. Valuable enough, perhaps, that this waste might be removed for little or no cost, thereby reducing the volume and cost of standard waste removal. Who knows – it may even be valuable enough for operators to get paid for their garbage!
Biodiesel: With the “green buzz” in the air and the rising cost of fuel in recent years, you have likely heard about cars which have been converted to run on spent restaurant oil. Did we ever stop to think that there might be a way for us to use that spent oil instead of just giving it away – or even paying for its removal? What if we were to develop an appliance that ran on spent oil? Perhaps it is a water heater, a compressor, or a cooking appliance. Consider that doing so would save energy usage and reduce waste and costs all at the same time. This certainly sounds like a win-win scenario to me.
Energy Efficiency: There is no polite way to say this – modern day cooking equipment is incredibly inefficient. A handful of manufacturers are focused on energy star ratings, but for now they are still in the minority. Consider that the gas used by a six burner range with an oven base may have an hourly gas rating equivalent to two residential heating units. US equipment manufacturers are some of the worst offenders, promoting quantity of BTU’s over efficiency and falling significantly behind their European counterparts. In exploring energy efficiency, we need to look beyond more efficient ways to do what we are doing now. We need to explore different ways to do what we are doing now.
Energy Harvesting: Even with improved efficiency, nearly every piece of commercial foodservice equipment will still reject some energy, often in the form of heat. Consider that gas fryers, quite common in kitchens throughout the United States, typically hover around 50% efficiency. That means that roughly half of the energy these appliances require is being wasted, sent right up the exhaust hood. Now let’s take it one step further and analyze the additional costs associated with this inefficiency. The hood must exhaust the heat and effluent, which increases the quantity of air that must be removed. When more air is removed, more air must be replenished, thus increasing the size of the fans and energy used. It gets worse. Often the fresh air entering the building must be conditioned (i.e. heated or cooled), which results in more energy usage. This same snowball effect exists for nearly every appliance in the kitchen, impacting an operator’s costs to bring energy into the building as well as its removal after use. Here is another example – fluorescent lighting. Have you ever noticed that a solar calculator works just fine indoors, powered by fluorescent lighting? This means that we are literally raining down energy in our buildings that could potentially be used for other purposes.
Green(backs) Make Sense
These are just a handful of suggestions that could be further explored, and there are numerous other comparable initiatives. But did you notice a common denominator with these proposed ideas? In one form or fashion, they all yield potential cost savings for the operator. By going green, you can actually save the environment and some money at the same time. Further, those with an entrepreneurial spirit will identify business models that capitalize on the new opportunities created. It is very simple – the greening of hotels and restaurants is happening. It has already started. So why not jump in and help develop these industry-specific initiatives? What are you waiting for?