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April 2008

Harvard Reaps Green Rewards
By: Janice Cha

To the public, Harvard University's signature color is crimson. But once you look beneath the surface—or rather, peer into a newly renovated production kitchen—you'll find the Cambridge, Mass., seat of higher learning is exceptionally green.

How green, you ask? It's so green that a 2005 redo of the serveries and shared main kitchen of the Dunster and Mather Houses, student residences, earned the country's first-ever Silver-level Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification for commercial foodservice.

The LEED Silver certification, however, has since been slightly overshadowed by the fact that the cumulative green renovations installed over the past several years have been able to save Harvard University Dining Services more than $105,000 per year in energy and water costs—about 5% of its annual $2 million utilities budget.

The energy- and water-efficient equipment items used at Dunster-Mather are the culmination of past renovations and experiences from other dining hall renovations on the Harvard campus.

The project was led by Bob Leandro, director of HUDS facilities and physical plant and a 35-year veteran of Harvard's dining services who, for the past three years, has run dining services maintenance, renovations, environmental safety and compliance. Leandro worked closely with a team from Denver firm Ricca Newmark Design, headed by Sean Callnin and Kathleen Seelye.

Sure, the Dunster-Mather project has its share of easy-to-spot environmentally responsible aspects—recycled paper napkins, an aggressive recycling program that cut trash volumes by nearly 60%, skylights and compact fluorescent lighting, to name a few. But that's only the tip of the iceberg.

The real story—the stuff that makes visiting foodservice pros turn, well, green with envy—comes from some less-than-sexy areas: waste oil management, a pulping machine, a heat-exchange system, variable-speed hood control, and in bathrooms, dual-flush toilets.

Meet Dunster And Mather
The two Houses in question, somewhat of an odd couple, sit side by side on the banks of the Charles River. Mather, built in the 1960s, is all glass, steel and poured concrete—totally contemporary. Dunster, which dates back to the '30s, is classic "old Harvard" construction—a red brick building done in Georgian architecture whose dining room is graced by high ceilings and chestnut wood paneling. Mather is home to some 425 students, while Dunster houses about 375.

Dunster's 970-sq.-ft. servery is all about display cooking and finishing. There's a salad and deli bar, plus stations for soup, pasta and breakfast. Other servery equipment includes a double-stacked convection oven, plus refrigerated drawers, reach-in refrigerators and freezers positioned at the stations they support.

Next door, Mather House sports a 1,420-sq.-ft. servery with a similar array of display finishing stations, and a small, 525-sq.-ft. kitchen.

As for hot and cold prep work, all of this culinary heavy lifting for both Houses is handled at Dunster in a 4,900-sq.-ft. shared kitchen. The grill station is backed by a steamer, griddle, charbroiler and fryers.

"Before renovations, the Dunster kitchen was huge and the serving area was small—a hot-food line was accessed by an alleyway for students to get their food," Leandro says. The renovation slashed kitchen square-footage by two-thirds, opening space for the salad and deli bars.

You LEED, We'll Follow
First, let's step back in time to before the renovation began. The decision to pursue LEED certification for the Dunster-Mather project was made after HUDS achieved a 92% recycling rate for demolition and reuse of equipment from the renovation of another student dining facility in '04.

"When we hit 92%, we said that if we can do that, let's go for LEED certification for Dunster-Mather," Leandro says.

"LEED made us evaluate every decision in a new way. We had to think about what would earn LEED points—what could we do to improve water savings, or lighting? How far did this tile have to travel to get here?" Leandro says. "If you've got A and B in front of you, you check the LEED scorecard to make the best choice based on what you can afford to do."

The Dunster-Mather project started its LEED trek by recycling demolition waste and used equipment. The project earned a 95% rating with the help of the Institution Recycling Network (, a Concord, N.H.-based cooperative that organizes recycling and minimizes waste for public and private organizations. Through IRN, nearly all of Dunster-Mather's used kitchen equipment was donated to orphanages in Jamaica.

Now let's take a look at some Dunster-Mather's most energy- and water-efficient equipment.

"Plumb" Handy Oil Handling
The Dunster-Mather main kitchen includes three banks of high-efficiency fryers. Leandro chose them in part for their ability to fry quickly using a fraction of the energy of traditional fryers. But he also chose the fryers for the way they handle used oil via the "direct-plumb" method—a safe, hands-off method of piping used oil from the fryers to a 150-gal. waste-oil tank located on the Dunster loading dock.

The Environmental Protection Agency indirectly influenced the decision to go with direct-plumbed fryers. Dunster, located next to the Charles River, has storm drains that flow straight to the water. The EPA's Oil Pollution Act of 1990 requires that any oil spill that affects "navigable waters" in "quantities that can harm the environment" be reported so that proper cleanup and remediation can be done. (Leandro knows of one university that failed to report an oil spill to the EPA and was later hit with a $253,000 fine—plus a $518,000 remediation project.)

Two years with the direct-plumbed high-efficiency fryers and all is well. "We've had zero [spill] problems—and the cooks love them," Leandro says.

Pulp Fiction, Pulper Fact
Waste water management helped earn major points on the LEED scale for the Dunster-Mather project.

Under the old system, "the number-one water hog in the entire kitchen was the scrapper," Leandro says, describing how the scrapper's water outlet would run non-stop during meal periods. Food waste was scraped into garbage disposals, where it was pulverized and sent through the drains to the city sewage treatment plant.

Post-renovation, the dish rooms at Dunster and Mather are each equipped with a pulper/extracter to capture food waste and paper napkins for composting. Most of the water recirculates within the system instead of relying on a constant flow of new water. The captured, extracted food waste—now ground, pulped and nearly dry—gets sent away for composting; the trash can-sized catch-basket is emptied once a day.

"The Massachusetts Water Resource Authority loves these units because we're taking the food waste [out of the sewer system] for them," Leandro notes. "It's also better for the plumbing."

Grease Is The Word
Grease traps are probably the least sexy aspect of any foodservice operation, what with the smell and the mess and the general ugh-factor—but that's not the case at Dunster-Mather.

Grease collection from waste water is generally handled by either a passive trap or a mechanical one. The passive system—essentially a large holding tank—contains solids, liquid and grease. The tanks are infamous for their pervasive stench and tendency to overflow if not emptied regularly. At Harvard buildings still using passive traps, "the smell literally permeates the entire building when the trap is opened," Leandro says.

By contrast, the mechanical trap at Dunster-Mather features a device that filters out the solids (the source of the stench) and skims the grease every 24 hours. The 55-gal. grease drum, located in the Dunster basement, is connected by a 2" pipe to the loading dock. A grease collection truck pumps it out every month for a $50 charge.

"There's no smell, minimal maintenance and no blockages with the mechanical system," Leandro says. "I bring in visitors from other school foodservice operations, open the lid, and everyone instinctively takes a step back to avoid the smell" but there's no smell at all, and everyone gets so excited. This is the highlight of the kitchen tour, believe it or not."

The mechanical grease trap is environmentally golden since it sends nothing down the drains but water. But it does cost more up front, since the system requires an engineer to install. Fortunately, it can be retrofitted for existing operations.

Leandro is on a mission to install mechanical grease traps at all HUDS locations. But when he talks about installing them in other Houses, "people ask me how much money it'll save. I don't have an answer yet," Leandro admits. To find out, he's added monitors at all locations that have passive outdoor traps to prove that less pumping would be required. And he's tracking how much money is saved on plumbing and pipe maintenance.

The Dunster Effect
Never one to rest on any laurels, Leandro has taken lessons learned from the LEED certification process at Dunster-Mather and used them at other HUDS operations. Some of the initiatives include:

  • Installing heat exchangers and refrigeration controls at Harvard's cook-chill facility.
    The project, finished in February, replaced the cooling system's evaporator fan motors with variable-speed fans. A switch enables the defrost cycle to run as needed rather than by a preset timer. Leandro expects this will end big temperature swings in the box, prevent short-cycling that causes premature wear-and-tear on the motors, and smooth out any power surges. As an added bonus, an online temperature monitoring system will send a text message or e-mail anytime a refrigerator goes above a certain temperature.

    Leandro calculates a payback time of 3.4 years, with annual savings of about $9,700 in electricity. "But when you factor in the rebate of about $8,400 from NSTAR, the local utility company, payback drops to 2.6 years," Leandro adds.

  • Installing variable-frequency drive fans and high-efficiency hoods at all 13 House kitchens.
    The fans, triggered by heat and smoke sensors, slow by 50% during downtimes. After seeing the savings at Dunster-Mather, Leandro has since retrofitted 10 of the 13 House kitchens.

    "Cost savings at Quincy House, for example, have averaged $17,443 per year in electricity and heating. When you deduct the annual savings and the $4,863 rebate from NSTAR from the initial $48,650 price-tag, the payback drops to about two and a half years—and that doesn't take rising energy costs into account," Leandro says.

  • Installing aerators on hand sinks and dual-flush toggles on toilets, campus-wide.
    Aerators with a flow-rate of 0.33 gal./min. have saved water to the tune of about 75% over code, Leandro says, which is why he's making the switch on all House hand-sink faucets. Ditto for dual-flush toilets tested in Dunster-Mather's employee restrooms. "It's hard to quantify the water savings, but we're going ahead and adding dual-flush toggle-handles to all House toilets," Leandro says.

    The bottom line of all this attention to details? Green measures such as a faucet aerator, or a variable-speed fan, or a skylight may seem small, "but they all add up," Leandro says. "And they're good for the environment."

Think Green, Then Act It
Energy-efficient equipment is useless if the cooking team isn't on board with the program. That's why Leandro and the HUDS team piloted the Green Skillet, an inter-kitchen conservation competition.

The two-year contest, launched in early 2007, pits kitchen crews from all the Houses against each other in a race to see which team can first achieve 10% reductions in gas, electricity, heating/air conditioning and water use.

To help crews, HUDS created a Green Skillet training program to share energy-saving tips, including turning off cooking equipment between meals, waiting to turn on equipment until just before it's needed, using CFL lighting and more.

At the one-year mark in February, the nine dining halls saw a combined reduction of 3.4% in electricity and 4.9% in natural gas, compared to average energy use over the previous three years. Two Houses—Adams and Quincy—reduced electricity use by 20%; and two other houses reduced power usage by about 16% and 11%.

Tracking The Wily Rebate
Part of the challenge of running a green operation lies is figuring out how to pay for the energy-saving equipment. And part of the solution, as Leandro has discovered, lies in rebates.

"For every piece of energy-saving equipment that we buy, I go after a rebate from NSTAR, the local utility company. You'd be amazed at what's available," Leandro says.

Consider this example of a lighting upgrade and occupancy sensors installation in Adams House storerooms. Five sensors earned a $25 rebate each, and 20 light fixture upgrades to T8s got a $10 rebate each, for a rebate total of $320. "Do that in 12 locations and it starts to add up," Leandro says.

Also, rebates can be quite substantial. "High-efficiency fryers used to come with a $300 rebate, but now it's closer to $1,000," Leandro says. "You have to do your homework."

Since July 1, 2007, HUDS has received $36,646 in utility company rebates.

Green Makes Cents
Leandro's payback calculations on HUDS—multiple energy- and water-saving measures are conservative to say the least. He generally runs the numbers based on current energy and water costs, knowing full well that "every year, energy costs continue to rise so savings are going to increase."

Harvard University, which buys bulk power and then sets prices for internal customers such as HUDS, projects that between 2008 and ' 09, its natural gas costs will rise by 5.2%; electric rates by 3.7%; fuel oil (used at Harvard' s central energy plant to generate steam for campus systems), by 17%; and steam (generated on-campus) by 5%.

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