10 Tips for Going Green in your Commercial Kitchen

It’s time for the foodservice industry to conduct an honest assessment of what we do and commit to making changes, going green every step of the way.

The foodservice industry is globally positioned to usher in the green revolution simply because of the size of the industry and significant energy consumed. Any changes, no matter how small, that were embraced throughout the industry would produce significant impact.

The change in operational procedures and processes isn’t limited to the acquisition of restaurant equipment. There are a number of strategies you, as the responsible owner of a foodservice operation, can adopt in your commercial kitchen to run a genuinely green operation and not only contribute to a safe environment, but also favorably impact your bottom line by reducing utility expenses and enhancing overall productivity. Here are ten tips to help you reach this goal in a way that calls for minor modifications in operational practices, employee training and a dash of plain common sense.

Tip #1: Reduce Water Consumption

Water consumption in your restaurant, college cafeteria or catering operation is inevitable. However, there are many things you can do to cut back unnecessary water consumption and reduce usage.

The Dishwasher Fallacy:

The commercial dishwasher is perhaps the most prominent piece of restaurant equipment you use in your foodservice operation. Unfortunately, most commercial dishwashers are neither energy efficient nor do they support water conservation. You may not be able to replace your existing dishwashers with energy efficient ones due to budgetary constraints. However, if you can, consider investing in dishwashers and other commercial restaurant equipment that display the Energy Star logo. More about this in a moment.

While using dishwashers in your foodservice operation, attempt as often as possible to set the units to the right cycle. Some utensils may not be as soiled as others and so they may not need to undergo an extended cycle. The longer the cleaning cycle, the higher the water consumption. If you have a small operation where dishes are cleaned manually, train your dishroom staff not to leave faucets running continuously. Cleaning and rinsing smaller utensils and china in a large plastic trough will save gallons of water and show a reduction in your monthly water bill, says Laurel Kohl, a senior researcher at the Institute for Sustainable Energy at Eastern Connecticut State University. Kohl further believes that using tap water for the dining service is more earth friendly when compared with bottled water and tends to conserve water resources as opposed to bottled water.

Icing up the Ice Machine:

By maintaining a record of the usage of ice at your foodservice facility, try to estimate the amount of ice you use on a daily basis and set the production accordingly. If you are located on a college campus and the students are out for spring break, reduce the number of ice machines you operate during slower times. This will not only conserve valuable water resources but also the electricity used to operate the ice machines.

Low Flow Pre-rinse Spray Hoses and Faucets:

Installing low flow pre-rinse spray hoses and faucets is an excellent way to control water consumption at your facility. Most importantly, ask your maintenance man to come in once a month and check thoroughly for dripping faucets. Since he is the expert, you can ask him to make recommendations regarding water conservation.

Tip #2: Reduce your Energy Consumption

Michael Abbate, author of Gardening Eden: How Creation Care Will Change Our World believes that the best way to conserve resources is by tracking them and responding proactively before the damage becomes extensive. Reducing your energy consumption in your commercial kitchen isn’t as challenging as you think.

Energy Star:

If you are planning to replace older commercial kitchen and restaurant equipment, invest in appliances that display the Energy Star logo. This is a government sponsored initiative jointly supported by the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and the US Department of Energy. Energy Star appliances are certified to be energy efficient and are validated after stringent testing.

Run Simple Checks in your Commercial Kitchen:

Finally, optimize all your thermostat settings when inspecting your restaurant equipment. Most utility companies in the US and Canada will conduct commercial energy audits of your foodservice facility for little or no charge. Request one if you haven’t done so already. They are the experts and will be able to offer the right type of guidance to help you reduce your energy bills. If you have extended warranties on your commercial kitchen equipment, request the manufacturer for an all points energy check. Most manufacturers today are as concerned about the environment and conservation as you.

Tip #3: Reduce Waste

There’s no limit when it comes to the measures you can adopt to reduce waste in your commercial kitchen. Here are just a handful of suggestions.

Collecting Recyclables:

Foodservice operations receive food and supplies everyday and much of the packaging is recyclable. Because you are removing the packaging in order to get to your supplies, it is extremely easy to collect, sort and recycle. Most urban areas offer recycling pickup along with trash collection. If this isn’t available in your area, contact a commercial recycler if the quantities are large. Your recycler can assist you in setting up an easy to manage program.

Use Compacters and Pulpers:

Compactors and pulpers are instrumental in reducing the physical size of trash which needs to be removed from your premises daily. If you did not invest in them while acquiring your restaurant equipment, it isn’t too late. Compactors and pulpers go a long way in reducing the energy resources required to process waste. According to an Energy Star study jointly sponsored by the US EPA and the US Department of energy, investment in energy efficient restaurant equipment and other commercial appliances can cut operational costs by up to 10-30%.

Tip #4: Use Environmentally Friendly Cleaning Supplies

It has taken some time for the foodservice industry to come to terms with the fact that traditional cleaning products are not only environmentally unfriendly, they may even be hazardous to public health in more ways than one. Hundreds of studies have demonstrated beyond doubt that these cleaning products contain carcinogens and other harmful ingredients. Here is what you can do:

Switch to Natural Cleaning Products:

Josh Dorfman, the author of The Lazy Environmentalist on a Budget, believes that we no longer have an excuse not to use eco friendly cleaning products. They are not only easily available but also priced competitively. Moreover, they won’t hurt your employees or send them to the emergency room.

Green cleaning no Longer Violates the Codes:

Commercial and municipal codes in most jurisdictions have been suitably modified to promote green cleaning. This practice also preserves the quality of water and does not damage ground water tables.

Tip #5: Change to Biodegradable Products where possible

Using biodegradable products is no longer a fashion statement but a genuine global initiative. As scientists continue to look for more avenues and sources for eco friendly bio materials, the practice is sure to help minimize further damage to the environment.

Use Biodegradable Packaging:

When packaging orders for quick service customers, take out orders or left overs, use packaging constructed from recycled paper board. Other biodegradable options you may want to consider include eco friendly food packaging made of bagasse, or sugar cane fiber.

Bio Plastics:

While conservationists argue over how to store toxic waste, a new line of plastic products called bio plastics is gradually gaining hold. Depending on the size and level of your foodservice operation, you can explore the possibility of switching over to bio plastic products. Many articles and reports have recently appeared in trade publications on this subject which you should give a second look. Bio plastic products are usually constituted from corn or potato starch and are known to be 100% biodegradable.

Tip #6: Change your Lighting

We all take lighting for granted and realize its critical importance only when there is either a black out or a brown out. Like other energy resources, lighting is an area that calls for immediate intervention.

Energy Efficient Lighting:

According to a study, 13% of your energy expense is generated by the lighting you install in your facility. You can reduce this ratio by installing T8 fluorescent lighting not only in your commercial kitchen but also in the immediate vicinity. Other measures include installing motion detectors in walk-in freezers, setting up timers in common areas and plain old good sense–asking your service personnel to turn off lights when not in use.

Amazing Statistics:

According to a study from the Foodservice Technology Center at Pacific Gas and Electric, about 80% of the $10 billion consumed by the foodservice sector in energy costs goes to waste. Unproductive lighting energy costs form a significant portion of this excess.

Tip #7: Education for yourself and Employees

An educated staff is also a competent staff and this adage extends to leveraging the positive energy of the green movement as well. Here are a few tips and tricks you can consider:

Resources from Manufacturers:

Make a few phone calls and you will be amazed to learn the extent to which the manufacturers and distributors of energy efficient restaurant equipment and other commercial kitchen appliances can help you and your employees learn about going green and staying green.

Training Programs from Industry Groups:

Certification and training programs organized by industry trade groups such as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and the Green Restaurant Association are great places to start. Other training and continuing education opportunities are often covered in many trade magazines.

The Almighty Internet:

Simply conduct searches on the Internet and locate relevant resources to help your company go green. Forward these links via group messaging to your employees and announce little incentives for those who read these resources.

Tip #8: Buy Local

“Buying local” refers to the practice of sourcing your products locally. This is an environmentally friendly strategy that is bound to pay rich dividends. Here is why:

Vote with your Feet:

If you source your food products, cooking supplies and other essentials from within your local community, you can influence the processes used to grow the food. Large volume buyers always have a say in not just the product but also the process. Buying organic or from sustainable resources is a quick step the right direction.

Energy friendly Conservation:

Sourcing locally also reduces environmental damage owing to transportation. The closer your produce or other food products are to your location, the less the transport resources are used.

Tip #9: Conduct the Research

The green movement is not a static entity. It is a dynamic, continually evolving global phenomenon that not only calls for but also requires research and study on your part. Such research does not have to be full time. There are plenty of online resources you can identify that will help you locate possible areas of interest.

Green Blogs:

You can also use Technorati or Google Blog Search to locate blogs on green issues. Thousands abound. Better still, why not set up your own blog on going green. It is not only free to blog but it can also provide you with a forum to exchange thoughts, views, ideas and opinions with like minded industry professionals who share a common mandate with you. If you are not all that techno savvy and don’t have the time to become one, ask your computer service provider to send someone over to set up an ‘RSS feed’ for you which covers the green revolution as it pertains to the foodservice industry. You will be impressed with the number of links you will receive every day on the subject. Through careful keyword selection, you will also be able to control the number of focus areas you have configured the RSS reader to aggregate.

Tip #10: Stay Committed

The green movement is not simply a trend or a fad. It is here to stay and continues to increasingly impact every industry, profession and vertical. Even the consumers are on the cutting edge. According to a study published in 2008 by the National Restaurant Association, 62% of customers surveyed indicated that they would prefer to dine at an environmentally friendly restaurant rather than one that did not consider the environment as a priority. Therefore, it makes good business and environmental sense to stay committed to the green cause and foster a back to nature approach in your operation.

By Jeff Breeden, a member of the National Association of Food Equipment Dealers

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