Going Green in the Foodservice Industry

Go Green in Foodservice

Sustainability has been trending in the foodservice industry for years and, according to a survey of 1,300 professional chefs by the National Restaurant Association, that won't soon change.1 Environmental sustainability, sustainable seafood, and food waste reduction were all featured on the survey's top 20 trend results. With more customers taking notice of environmental issues, going green in your foodservice operation is a good way to save money and draw in customers as they search for eco-friendly restaurants.

1. Self-Assessment

One of the first steps as you work to become an eco-friendly restaurant is to assess where you currently stand in energy consumption, water consumption, and waste. Figuring that out can help you pinpoint where improvements can be made.

When assessing your energy consumption, contact your utility company. Many utilities offer free energy audits, which can help you determine where most of your energy consumption is coming from and how you can improve that. If your utility company does not offer these audits, you can do your own energy survey.

Water use audits or consultations are also available from some water utilities and conservation centers, local organizations that work to conserve resources. If this is not available for your business, you can do your own. The American Water Works Association offers free water audit software that you can use if no organization local to you offers an auditing service.

To see where you stand with waste, accurate inventory is vital, since it can help you track your commercial kitchen's food. Another facet of waste reduction is packaging. Pay attention to how items are packaged as they are delivered, and think about how much of that packaging is actually necessary to ensure the product arrives safely.

2. Set Goals

Once you know where you currently stand with waste and usage, you can begin setting measurable goals. Consider using the EPA's Portfolio Manager® to keep track of your company's energy and water consumption. This software will allow you to track your progress as you work to become more eco-friendly.

As you set your goals to reduce food waste, energy consumption, and water usage, get your employees involved. Ask for suggestions and develop a new mission statement that incorporates your dedication to waste reduction. Set long-term and short-term goals, and celebrate your smaller achievements on your way to larger eco-friendly success. After you have a set of measurable, achievable goals, you can move on to strategy and implementation.

3. Waste Reduction

There are several strategies you can utilize to reduce food waste. Ensure that all employees are trained properly in preparing each recipe; food prepared incorrectly can mean more food is being used than necessary, or can result in food being discarded when it is prepared incorrectly. Inventory your food supply often and adjust your ordering according to how often you actually need to restock to prevent excess food from going bad. Encourage your chef to develop recipes that use as much of each piece of produce as possible, including parts like stems, peels, and cores.2 For the bits you absolutely cannot use, consider composting, or donating to a local garden for that purpose.

Next, look at the non-food portion of your waste. Speak with your vendors about ordering items with minimal packaging to lessen what comes into your restaurant. Use reusable storage wherever possible, and purchase eco-friendly products such as post-consumer recycled napkins and to-go containers. Speak with your local recycling plant to see what items they are capable of processing and use that information as a guide in implementing a recycling program.

4. Energy Efficiency

The foodservice industry uses a lot of power; the high energy requirements of refrigeration and cooking make that inevitable. However, using energy-efficient equipment can help reduce the amount of energy you need to operate your equipment. Refrigeration, ice makers, dishwashers, warming equipment, fryers, and steamers are all available with ENERGY STAR certification that proves they meet the EPA's rigorous standards for energy efficiency. Some of these models are more expensive than their less-efficient counterparts, but will save you money in the long run through reduced energy costs. Use an energy cost calculator to estimate how much a piece of energy-efficient equipment can save you over its lifetime.

Keeping equipment in good repair ensures it will operate at top efficiency. Installing strip curtains in your walk-in cooler can prevent cold air from escaping and reduce how often the compressor and your HVAC system has to run. Check your water heater's temperature, and adjust it if necessary - just ten degrees too high can cost you as much as $650 more in energy costs per year.3 Turn off your hood when you are not cooking and consider investing in motion-detecting light switches for rooms that are often empty, like restrooms and stockrooms.

5. Water Conservation

ENERGY STAR certifications are also available for equipment that uses water. Ice machines, dishwashers, and steamers that are ENERGY STAR certified use water more efficiently than similar equipment to aid in your conservation efforts. How you use the equipment is important, too. Try to only make as much ice as you need, and run your dishwasher only when full to reduce water waste.

In addition to your kitchen equipment, your sinks can also be modified to make them more eco-friendly. Ensure that all leaks are fixed promptly, as even a slow drip can be costly over time. Consider installing low-flow faucets, aerators, or metering faucets to reduce the water flow from the tap.

1. Sustainability Tops Trends on 2015 What's Hot Survey National Restaurant Association. Accessed October 2015.

2. Get More Out Of Your Produce Buck: How to Use Fruits and Vegetables in Their Entirety Juice Plus. Accessed October 2015.

3. Water Heater Temperature Food Service Technology Center. Accessed October 2015.

4. Getting Started ConServe. Accessed October 2015.