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January 2008

By: Janice Cha

A chain exec, design consultant, equipment testing pro and manufacturer explain the myriad upsides of green initiatives during a NAFEM Show session.

In the kitchen "green" may be nothing more than the color of lettuce, but for foodservice energy efficiency and sustainability experts, it continues to be the color of money.

"If you had to wheel your kitchen equipment over to the gas station every morning for a fill-up, your perspective [on energy efficiency] would change pretty quickly," said Don Fisher, opening speaker during the "Why Go Green?" session at last fall's The NAFEM Show, and manager of the PG&E Food Service Technology Center.

Fisher was joined by Tara Wefers, chief development officer for Burgerville Restaurants; Kate Lewis, marketing manager for the Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star program; Kathleen Seelye, president of Ricca-Newmark Design; Dean Landeche, v.p. of marketing for Manitowoc Foodservice Group; and moderator Doug Fryett, Fryett Consulting Group.

The group's goal: to share tips on green equipment and facility design, energy-saving rebates, and ways to implement local efforts.

Performance Counts
The first challenge with green efforts is to combat misperceptions about energy-efficient equipment, explained Fisher, who as head of the FSTC has been championing energy-efficient kitchens for more than two decades.

"On the [show] shuttle this morning, I overheard a multi-line rep talking about how a couple of his chain restaurant clients were worried that Energy Star refrigerators wouldn't be able to 'keep up' with older refrigerators. This misperception is our biggest challenge.

In all of our [equipment] testing, we have never seen a correlation between efficiency and poor performance," Fisher said. "And yet that's what's being sold out there on the market, the fact that there is a compromise in specifying energy efficiency."

All appliances are not created equal, he added. " Do yourself a favor and specify for efficiency. Energy Star products really can justify your return on investment."

Energy Costs: Up, Up And Away
Energy Star's Kate Lewis took a different tack, focusing on the rising costs of power and water. "Constraints on the nation's antiquated electric grid mean only one thing: costs will continue to go up," she said. "Compared to 2005 levels, some areas have seen price jumps of up to 20%."

"The same holds true for water," Lewis continued. "It's now seen as one of the most precious resources. In fact, the costs of water and sewer are growing faster than inflation."

And if inevitable cost increases aren't enough to make people rethink priorities, there are always regulations. "The EPA Energy Act of 2005 will phase out energy-inefficient ice machines and solid-door refrigerators and freezers as of 2010," Lewis said. She mentioned other federal drivers such as the carbon emissions reduction bill currently under discussion in Washington.

On the "carrot" side of the equation, however, is the growing number of incentive programs in at least 15 states that cut anywhere from $100 to $1,000 from the initial purchase price. "Rebates help address the barrier of the incremental costs of energy-efficient equipment," Lewis said. "It's money on the table."

Greener Design, Green Companies
Kathleen Seelye and Tara Wefers both work with green-oriented companies. Designing for Ricca-Newmark, Seelye has wide experience implementing green designs. Simply put, she said "the more you can reduce energy use, the greater the profit. A 20% drop in energy use can translate to a 15% to 25% increase in profits."

Seelye strongly recommended using NAFEM's Life-Cycle Costing program, available from the NAFEM Web site ( "This goes beyond spec'ing Energy Star equipment. Purchasing decisions must be based on issues well beyond the initial expense," she said. "The NAFEM program is an amazing tool."

It's also a tool that needs a lot more industry awareness. "When we contacted manufacturers to ask about maintenance costs, we found only one out of seven who actually understood what the life-cycle costing model was," Seelye said.

Next, Wefers described how Burgerville Restaurants has built its corporate operating philosophy around sustainability and "putting people first."

The nearly 40-unit Northwest chain relies on locally grown seasonal menu items when possible to reduce shipping costs; purchases wind energy for all locations to reduce some 17.5 million pounds of greenhouse gases; converts 7,500 gals. of used oil per month into biodiesel fuel; and runs an active recycling and composting program at nearly all its restaurants.

"It's a whole philosophy of treading lightly on the earth, from our food sources to employee healthcare to air quality," Wefers said.

Manitowoc's Landeche added a legislative spin to the discussion. "Restaurants consume about two-and-a-half times the amount of energy as other business buildings, and they make a really big target for legislators," he said.

"Listen to the market, listen to these collaborative efforts [by organizations such as NAFEM and Energy Star]," Landeche continued. "It's time for us to work on sustainability and to figure out ways to drive profit for the industry while pleasing customers. If we don't do things voluntarily now, we may be forced by lawmakers to do so down the road."

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