Consider for a moment standing in front of a coal burning fire… imagine getting as close as you can and then taking a big, deep breath. In that moment, you would be poisoning yourself. Is this something you’d willingly do? Seems ridiculous, right? Well, it’s not, because it’s what we’re doing every day.
It’s estimated that 49% of the electricity produced in the U.S. today is generated by coal-fired plants (Source: US Energy Information Administration). In fact, it’s the number one source of electric generation in the world.
So, why is this relevant to our industry? The commercial food service industry generates a staggering 85 billion pounds of CO2 on an annual basis. Consider the most common energy usage in a restaurant: heating, cooling, ventilation, lighting, water heating, refrigeration, office equipment, broilers, ventilation fans, coolers and dishwashers. These uses are creating demand for electric energy and directly result in CO2 emissions. Because we don’t see the direct relationship between our energy consumption and CO2 emissions, we don’t think about how we might begin reducing that use.
This issue is usually discussed using a word that could probably win awards for being the most boring word in a business dictionary: sustainability. When most people hear the word, their eyes glaze over because it just doesn’t seem to have any real meaning. It’s such an all encompassing word that it’s almost too overwhelming to think about. For most of us, we need to understand complex ideas in simple terms. For businesses, it’s often through a discussion of the cost savings that can be realized when implementing processes that can significantly reduce our energy consumption. When paired with the knowledge that any action we take can make a huge difference in what goes into the air, it’s all the more compelling.
Let’s take a look at an example of what this looks like (Source: Tom Stroozas, COOKING FOR PROFIT Magazine/February 15, 2012). In a typical casual dining restaurant, we might find the following:
• 1 — 60″ Griddle @ 27 kW electric
• 2 — Convection Ovens @ 48 kW electric
• 2 — 6 Eye Range Tops @ 44 kW electric
• 2 — Fryers @ 44 kW electric
• 1 — Warewasher (hi-temp) @ 36 kW electric
• 1 — Water Heater @ 108 kW
If we assume these appliances are being used two hours each day and operate on a 360 day schedule, we can calculate that this single restaurant will be generating almost 483,000 pounds of carbon dioxide. That’s the equivalent of 241 tons of CO2.
The average cost of electricity for commercial use in the US is approximately 10.7 cents according to the EIA (US Energy Information Administration). With just a 5% reduction in use, the CO2 emissions would be reduced by 12 tons. The cost savings would equal approximately $23,651 annually for just this one restaurant. Expand that to include the roughly 630,000 restaurants in the US and your CO2 emission savings equal 7.5 million tons with a cost savings of almost $15 billion. Imagine what the savings might before the entire industry. There is no question that energy consumption is a growing problem in the U.S., but there is nothing to say that we can’t address this. As the saying goes, “we got ourselves into this, we can get ourselves out of it.”
Fortunately, we’re starting to see a shift in the industry as a more concerted effort is being made to deal with the problem. Wayne Jones, Senior Director of Construction and Facilities for Willie’s Restaurants says that “it’s becoming part of the overall discussion on energy conservation and most restaurants are now moving toward the use of natural gas for cooking. The industry is also transitioning to more efficient lighting and HVAC systems”. An example of that new emphasis on energy conservation is, according to Jones, “all our new restaurants will utilize LED signage and lighting and the most efficient HVACR systems as well as durable man-made construction materials. We are also exploring converting existing restaurant lighting to LED and HVAC systems when replaced are upgraded to the highest efficiency level. We recycle our cooking oil and are right-sizing our trash hauling frequencies.” As a result of these efforts, Jones says they’re also finding that “employees are interested and eager to learn more.” Jones cautions, however, that “if instituting sustainability measures endangers a fragile profit margin, there’s a risk that may not be palatable. If incentives were provide to the industry, it’s possible that a wholesale change could take place that might benefit everyone and the environment.”
Until such time as there is some meaningful impetus to cause a seismic shift in the industry, we need to remind ourselves of some basic things we can be doing to make a difference. These include, but are not limited to: regular maintenance of equipment, including changing air filters and checking seals and gaskets can have a big impact on energy efficiency. Installing energy efficient air conditioning and hoods as well as programmable thermostats can make a big difference. Energy efficient lighting can result in significant cost savings. Having a start-up and shut down schedule can dramatically reduce the idle time of your appliances. For cooking equipment, it helps to determine how much time your equipment needs for pre-heating. All lights, hoods, ranges, signs and fans should be turned off when not in use. When looking at your kitchen layout, it’s important to keep in mind that the cooling equipment should be separated from the cooking equipment so the refrigerators don’t have to work as hard. The hottest appliances should be grouped under the same vent. Finally, training employees on the importance of energy conservation is critical as it is our behavior that can make the biggest difference in our efforts to reduce our energy consumption and realize significant cost savings.