Don’t Let Them Go to Waste: 5 Steps to Kick-Starting Your Sustainability Efforts

By Tarah Schroeder, FCSI, principal at Ricca Design Studios

Creating a sustainability program can be overwhelming for foodservice operators, as it often brings up questions and conversations beyond the realm of foodservice. And with so much information available, it can be difficult for operators to sort through the noise and  know where or how to start.  

If you truly respect innovation, creativity, people, and problem solving to include sustainability in your culture, then turning broad sustainability goals into reality requires thoughtful commitment and careful preparation. Developing a plan is the best way to truly reduce your impact to the environment, as well as build a stronger internal and external community. Read below to learn about the steps any foodservice operation can take to embrace sustainability.

1. Include sustainability in your mission statement.

A mission statement is a company’s touchstone, providing guiding principles that inform company objectives. Any restaurant or operation that wants to be more sustainable must start here to truly effect change in its culture before it can create achievable goals. Categories can include:

  • Resources — water and energy reduction
  • Community — waste as a resource, gardens, and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
  • Health — healthy menu options, healthy work environment

Snooze, an A.M. Eatery, a Colorado-based quick service restaurant chain serving breakfast and lunch, has created a mission statement of People, Profit, Planet, Pancakes to reflect both their culture and dedication to sustainability.  It is no wonder that they have high employee participation in waste reduction and energy-saving initiatives.

2. Create a Baseline.

A baseline lets you know where you stand before making commitments on how to do better. In the past, the first step would have been to look at peers’ energy performance. However, it is now understood that differences in menu, operations, and style of service, make it too difficult and inaccurate to compare restaurants to each other.  

It is better for restaurants to develop their own baseline from which they can improve upon, such as audits for existing restaurants and energy models for new projects. There are varying levels of energy assessment. The American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air-conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) has created three levels of audits on their website.

A level one audit is an internal checklist that starts with utility bills, and then continues to building characteristics, such as lighting, refrigeration, kitchen ventilation, and cooking equipment.  A checklist can be used in conjunction with infrared thermometers and plug load data loggers, and many utility companies offer audit assistance. Overall, understanding these existing conditions are important because they provide a basis for recommending energy and water conservation measures.

A waste audit can be conducted much the same way, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has resources here. The first steps to creating a waste baseline are thinking about where your waste is going, how much and what type of waste is being generated, and where the majority of waste is coming from (pre-consumer versus post-consumer).

3. Write a Performance Plan.

A performance plan translates sustainability goals into an action plan.  It takes short-term goals, such as retrofit and replacement decisions, and long-term goals, such as smart energy targets that can be reviewed and updated, and puts them into practice. Some examples of strategies for short-term goals include: implementing procedures to assure manual shutoff of systems after hours, timer shut-offs for load shedding, or consolidating preventative maintenance of like equipment. The Foodservice Technology Center is a great resource for strategies.

Long-term goals can be created based upon the baseline information with deadlines further down the road. For example, the goal might be to reduce energy use by 5 percent in four years. The strategies to achieve these goals could include a capital replacement program to purchase Energy Star-rated cooking and refrigeration appliances for replacement of old appliances on a life cycle cost basis, upgrading building automation system or metering to include kitchen systems, or creating a design protocol for any new buildings or projects that come online.

Harvard University was one of the first higher-education facilities to create a performance plan that had specific sections on dining services. This was due in large part to the President’s Climate Action Plan to reduce greenhouse gases by 30 percent by 2016. Some strategies they used to contribute to this long-term goal included:

  • New dishwashers that have saved over 500,000 gallons of hot water annually
  • 150-gallon stainless steel storage tank for waste vegetable oil
  • Diverting more than 95 percent of construction and demolition “waste” from landfills
  • Peak demand exhaust hood controls
  • Large skylights to improve lighting

Here’s a simple step-by-step breakdown for creating performance plans:

  • Step One: Make a commitment
  • Step Two: Assess performance
  • Step Three: Create an action plan
  • Step Four: Implement the action plan
  • Step Five: Evaluate progress
  • Step Six: Recognize achievements

 

 

4. Bring the right people together.

Sustainability champions are key to the success of any initiative, as they are enthusiastic about making change and will ensure that the conversation always stays relevant.

When building their new headquarters in Houston, Exxon Mobil wanted to make sure that sustainability and safety were important components of the overall project.  A sustainability group that included operations, maintenance, and design team members was formed to review high-level decisions from an environmental impact point of view. Capital improvements such as waste to energy strategies, that are often value engineered out of a new project, remained intact and contribute to a successful operation today.

5. Re-evaluate and re-assess.

A plan can only work if it is constantly being updated and revised based upon current trends, culture, and circumstances.  If you take the initiative to follow these steps, the only way to keep it relevant is through re-evaluating and re-assessing your goals and strategies.

It is these purposeful steps that will help you create a culture shift that is focused on sustainability.