Today there is a growing readiness among foodservice operators and customers to realize the ecological and economic benefits of adopting 'green' design practices.These benefits include more energy-efficient operations, more systemetized use of recycled materials and organic foods and the advantages of low-impact construction practices.
In this column, we'll present a basic-definition of green design and describe the market forces that will likely make it a more common strategy used in foodservice projects and operations in the future. In subsequent columns, we'll review some of the principles, products and performance measurements that have been developed over the past 15 years by those interested in promoting the green design movement.
Meeting future needs
In general, "green design" describes techniques that are aligned with "best practice" guidelines set forth by several major conservation organizations. One good description of its goals was made at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Green design, it said, comprised a portfolio of strategies geared to "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
This statement encapsulates green design's intention to proceed according to "sustainable" principles that minimize the use of nonrenewable resources and seek to prevent air, water and ground contamination and other activities that degrade the environment.
To ensure that green design projects proceed according to commonly accepted standards, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) was formed. The USGBC is a national coalition of over 4000 member building owners, design professionals, utilities and others (you can learn more about it at www.usgbc.org).
The Council established a set of green building standards known as the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System. This voluntary standard, created by USGBCmember builders, architects and designers, provides a complete framework for assessing building performance and meeting sustainability goals.
LEED itself recognizes achievements in green design through programs that include project certification, training and environmentally responsible facility operation guidelines.
Among LEEDS' goals is to promote integrated, whole building design practices (a key to improved management and efficiencies), while stimulating leadership in facility planning and construction. Another goal was to promote-green "competition" that would result in additional best practice techniques.
Green design's overall advantages can be summarized in four points. It:
- helps reduce negative environmental impacts,
- helps build sustainable and healthful communities
- tends to increase worker productivity and,
- leads to reductions in the longterm costs of daily operations.
Start with local eco-systems
The goals in any green foodservice design project will typically begin with plans to reduce or eliminate the negative impact of the building(s) on local eco-systems.
Other objectives should include developing a sustainable site plan, safeguarding water supplies and ensuring water-use efficiencies, determining optimum facility and equipment energy efficiency, making maximum use of recyclable and recycled materials in construction and operations, and preserving indoor environmental quality after the facility opens.
This list may seem to add new complexity, costs and restrictions to the already difficult process of planning and managing facility construction or renovation projects.
However, the current environmental impact of building operation is already grave, as existing buildings are now responsible for 40% of U.S. energy consumption, 25% of water use and 35% of our carbon-emissions.
What's more, it has been projected by the USGBC that 30 million more buildings will become operational in the U.S. by 2010! Clearly, if green building practices don't quickly become more wide-spread, the alternative will be spiraling demand for natural resources and rising rates of environmental contamination.
To bring green concerns directly home to our industry, restaurants and foodservices are typically the largest energy users and polluters among a facility's tenants on a square foot basis. They also are the largest compromisers of air quality and consumers of fresh water and toxic chemicals.
Looked at from a purely economic perspective, U.S. restaurants (and foodservices) spend over $5 billion on energy every year, creating a median annual energy expenditure of $161 per seat. Our industry's operations are also major contributors to the 210 million tons of solid waste generated in America every year, of which only 56 million tons is recovered through recycling or composting.
One key area of existing foodservice operations that can immediately become greener is food prep, which often accounts for some 35% of daily energy use and costs. The best way to lower this demand and operating expense is to utilize equipment that has earned the Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star ratings. This certification that kitchen equipment meets the government's most stringent efficiency standards means operators can now select models that can reduce usage and costs from 25% to 60%.
Current Energy Star-rated foodservice equipment includes refrigerators and freezers, gas-powered fryers, steamers, hot-food holding cabinets and ice machines. In addition, an increasing number of water boards and utility agencies (as well as some state governments) are now offering rebates and tax credits to operators who switch to Energy Star-rated kitchen equipment.
Another "green" tool operators can use to lower expenses and increase efficiency is to apply life-cycle metrics to equipment performance. These include evaluating the total cost of use for each piece from purchase to end of active service, and seeking ways to minimize the long-term cost of ownership rather than simply purchasing models with the lowest initial price.
It is important to note that the green approach to designing, building and operating foodservices makes financial, as well as environmental, sense. For example, we have found that foodservice utility costs usually equal approximately 5% of a facility's gross revenue. With profit margins typically in the 4% to 7% range, a 20% reduction in energy outlays can generate a direct bottom line improvement of 15% to 25%.
This introductory article has described some of the most significant motivations, practices and impacts of a green approach to the creation and operation of noncommercial foodservices. The next column will outline specific green building practices and the benefits they create, while the concluding piece will look at particular products and materials that best support green operations.