I have written previously in this space about an editorial role I had some years ago on a magazine called Energy Management. I found myself thinking back to that period over and over again while we prepared the cover story on “The Green Kitchen” for this issue.
Sustainability has received quite a bit of attention in this magazine and many others over the past few years. There are some who see this interest as a passing trend that will recede in importance over time. I do not share that view, mostly for the simple reason that so much of what really undergirds sustainability is really economic. And while economic realities change, they do not go away.
Some aspects of sustainability are largely philosophical and culinary, as you discover when talking to chefs who tend to focus on issues like local sourcing of fresh food. But when it comes to kitchen and servery operations, one quickly finds that effectively addressing sustainability in foodservice requires attention to matters that are mechanical, electrical, thermal and — let's not forget — operational.
In the end, achieving real sustainability is about better management. It is about systems, training, staff oversight, the calculation of financial returns on investment and the management of energy, water and waste streams.
It is also about kilowatt hours, Btu and therms, cubic feet of air and gallons of water per minute, about tipping fees, food costs and production forecasting.
And, something to keep in mind as many of our readers plan to attend the semi-annual NAFEM equipment show, sustainability is about investigating equipment specs and new technology. It is about educating yourself on these matters and then educating your administration about the cost of operating a small manufacturing facility and of heating and cooling building space.
This part of a sustainability initative is not so much philosophical as it is practical. And frankly, it is not always that easy.
On the other hand, your success in managing these aspects of a foodservice operation can be measured. And where well-grounded management decisions and practices can generate definitive, meaningful and significant financial returns for one's organization or client.
I would remind those who see this issue as a passing trend that once better energy management became a focus of building owners and the manufacturing industry in the early 1980s, it soon became an established factor in their operations.
Management decisions to make capital investments still depend on the projected price of energy over time. But that said, managements in those sectors realized quickly that there were real returns to be had by investing in more efficient buildings, boilers, pumps, motors and processes. These had paybacks that also turned into long-term income stream improvements.
Foodservice has been a laggard in many regards. On the commercial side, one reason is that so many chain restaurants think in such short terms. For those in the business for the long haul, that shortsightedness has been costly, even if it goes un-acknowledged.
Onsite foodservice has had its own issues. One of the most notable is that most are in situations where their energy, steam, gas and water use are not metered. Operators typically pay an allocated share of the costs of these resources in their P&L lines and contributions to overhead, but those charges often bear no relationship to actual usage or to efforts at energy and water management.
As several experts note in our Green Kitchen article, “You can not manage what you do not measure.” This has got to change. It is by an awareness of the economic costs and economic returns of particular behaviors that we can most effectively manage and direct those behaviors.
If your organizaton wants to be more sustainable, more profitable and more effective at controlling its operating costs, sustainability initiatives have much to offer it.
Our Green Kitchen story will give you many ideas about how to improve the efficiencies of your kitchen. You can read a longer version of the story online that also includes interviews and advice from several prominent operators in the college segment, where sustainability has become a major and highly visible institutional concern. It's on our website at www.food-management.com.