Foodservice Equipment Reports

When Voluntary Becomes Mandatory

In physics, the short version of Newton’s First Law of Motion says a body at rest tends to stay at rest, and a body in motion tends to stay in motion. It has to do with balanced and unchanging force. The second law deals with unbalanced forces causing changes in a body’s speed or direction.

Now, Newton wasn’t talking about human behavior. But he might as well have been. People do tend to keep doing—or not doing—whatever they’re doing or not doing, until some outside force causes a change.

Legislators, for example, make laws. They keep making them, piles of them, and they hardly ever remove any. It’s not likely you’ll ever hear a legislator say, “Well, my work here is done. I’m disbanding myself and going home.”

We all need standards and regulators and legislators, of course, but it’s interesting to ponder the self-perpetuating aspect of it all. Once in motion, there you go. Energy Star certification, for example, is a great idea. It encourages efficiency, and the badge has a marketing value.

Since 2001, the voluntary Energy Star program has stimulated greatly improved efficiency in foodservice equipment, and the program has grown to address eight categories of equipment. In some categories, a large percentage of products improved and were certified, to the point where the Star became so common that its significance was diluted. During that same period, some federal and other jurisdictions created requirements that essentially made Energy Star equivalents mandatory minimums for doing business. With growing penetration and in some cases redundancy, Energy Star didn’t say its job was done here. It raised the bar in many categories, in effect starting over again. Recently, it also began requiring test procedures that involve a whole lot more outside sources and additional expense.

One byproduct: The ratio of people testing/certifying products to people creating the products has increased significantly.

Meanwhile, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program looks like it’s on a similar path. LEED sets requirements for environmental friendliness, to put it broadly, an important and constructive goal. It started as a voluntary program, and while it technically remains so in the general market, certain government projects are required to meet LEED standards.

An architect friend recently told us about a shopping mall that likely will be the largest commercial space ever certified LEED. Which of course means any retailer wanting to be in that mall must meet LEED requirements. A noble project, but the “voluntary” nature of LEED gets murky for those tenants. Is LEED expensive? The architect says the pricing is coming down rapidly for LEED-related products and techniques. But on the other hand, services—certification, documentation, etc.—represent added costs.

And LEED will be an ongoing process. There may be periodic recertifications required as buildings age and measurement technology becomes more accurate and comprehensive. And at some point when LEED penetration reaches a certain level, upgraded standards likely will be rolled out. The process will begin anew.

Energy Star and LEED aren’t the only benchmark programs that have been through this process. Many E&S manufacturers seeking and maintaining ISO certifications have been through this, too.

All of which is positive in the bigger picture. We just need to recognize these changes for what they are—a whole new business with its own costs and payback—and figure them in.

Brian Ward

Chief Editor

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