April 01, 2012
LEED has an uphill battle in foodservice, even in its latest form. Thereís no question the efficiency and sustainability goals of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program are valuable. And with ongoing tweaking, the program has evolved to be more useful to more kinds of entities, including, more recently, foodservice.
But foodservice remains a unique challenge. LEED, originally focused on a broad spectrum of retail, office and other commercial spaces, took awhile to adapt to foodservice. It has taken time to address, for example, back-of-house energy and water consumption issues that simply donít exist in most other kinds of businesses.
Now, LEED is more on track with foodservice, but itís still more of an off-the-rack fit than a tailored one. The program structure and itís assumptions bunch up here and get too tight there. Look at our market. Our facilities tend to be relatively small compared to many other commercial categories, so efficiencies of scale are different. Independent operators are small businesses with small pockets for up-front costs. Commercial chains, meanwhile, have bigger pockets, but they didnít get that way by throwing money around. And chains, regardless of pockets, still generally have relatively small unit footprints. And they have them in very large numbers. The economies of construction and ownership in foodservice, including franchise systems, are different from those in other businesses.
The result? A lot of foodservice operators love the sustainability and the long-term utility savings of a LEED-compliant structure. But the up-front investments, including LEED documentation fees, etc., are hurdles that many operators just arenít interested in. Why get certified? Why not just adopt the practices and pocket the savings?
An informal tally of chain attendees at our recent Multiunit Foodservice Equipment Symposium, held at the Barton Creek Resort in Austin, Texas, bore out the point. Even with LEED creating a streamlined way to certify multiple sites based on a single prototype, operators still have to weigh the benefits vs. the costs of actually going for the certification.
LEED is a great tool for advancing standards, and we all benefit from that. So how do we keep LEED viable? We need to create additional incentives for getting certified. As it stands now, bits and pieces qualify for rebates, tax offsets and other incentives. You can get incentives for Energy Star equipment, for example, and for increased lighting efficiency and HVAC upgrades. But those incentives are tied to the individual improvements, not to LEED certification. And even at that, some of those incentives are scheduled to phase out in the next couple years.
What we really need are tax incentives to offset actual LEED certification costs. Maybe federal, or maybe state or local, or a combination of the three. For most foodservice operators, the hurdle appears to be the one-time, up-front expenses. LEED verification, documentation and so on is time consuming and expensive.
Maybe tax breaks could be structured to compensate for those expenses. And it seems it could be done with relatively little additional bureaucracyóthe LEED documentation itself could serve as its own proof.
Letís see if we can push this ball forward. LEEDís a good one. It just needs a little nudge.