Foodservice Equipment Reports

SHORT REPORT: Getting Real Numbers On Sustainability

“Green.” “Energy Efficient.” “Sustainable.”

Seems those terms are used on every new product. Each one promises huge percentage savings. In fact, if you bought several of those products and added the percentage savings together, you’d almost think you’d be putting energy back into the grid rather than taking it out and paying for it.

In a past life with Brinker Int’l., I looked at a lot of those products. We investigated solar panels, wind turbines, LED lighting, energy monitoring, demand ventilation, Energy Star equipment, high efficiency hot water heaters, geothermal, radiant barriers, on and on. Some of those products have legitimate possibilities for giving you a great return on your investment, we determined. With others, though, you have to go through so many convoluted calculations that at the end of the day you can’t tell what it does.

First Set A Baseline

The most important aspect in determining whether something actually saves you money or not is to set your baseline. Then you have something to measure a product against. What resources are you using in the existing facility? Then what’s the change with the new product?

So to start, you have to monitor. Not all that long ago, I always found it difficult to put a monitoring system into one of my facilities. Cost was very high, monthly payments were ongoing, monitoring companies came in hard-selling their services, and operations hated giving up control of their stores.

A lot of those things have changed today. The systems have come way down in cost, especially for new-store installs, monthly fees have gone down because of the larger base of customers, and if you know how your operations team works, you can provide parameters the group can work within. The most important thing is that monitoring can read exactly what energy you are using before you make any changes to your store. Then you can install a product and read exactly what that product did for you.

Of course there will be variables to consider—outside temperatures, how operators use the product, volume of the store, etc.—but it is better than making a decision based on some manufacturer’s information that he extrapolates over a year. The key is making sure operations is on board with the product. Several times we put in systems set parameters that were too tight, and the manager got alarms every 20 mins. until he or she started ignoring them, or the systems created an uncomfortable environment by reducing energy usage too much. Operations will be the first to kill this type of project by ignoring it or by complaining that it takes too much of their time, or worst, that it affects the customers experience. You need monitoring to be able to provide a business case to finance so everyone understands that the cost of the system is worthwhile. It is only through monitoring that I was able to provide compelling business cases on products that I knew to save the company money.

Details Are Everything

The other thing is how you actually set up the testing. Do you test in one location, or five locations? Of course it depends on the project, but I would start at one location first, to see if the testing is worth the time, then roll out to five or 10 locations for confirming payback, product quality, and installation procedures. Then I would go to 20 or 50 locations for making sure operations is on board and installation problems are worked out. After that, systemwide.

I always tried to make sure I was working on projects that provided a payback within two years. There are not many other types of projects a company can spend money on that get them those types of returns. But in searching for those types of products, you have to be able to show you’re getting those returns. You can’t do that looking at utility bills, or taking someone’s word for it. You need empirical data. That is where monitoring comes in.

Rick McCaffrey, CEO and founder of P&L Energy Conservation in Dallas, is a LEED Accredited Professional for Building Design and Construction, an AIA architect and active member of the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards. His foodservice career includes 27 years with Brinker International as their VP of Architecture and Design, where he worked on over 20 different concepts. He can be reached at 214/461-9658 or