Planning for Reducing Energy, Carbon and Waste

A key component of any sustainable foodservice operation involves saving energy, water and waste as well as reducing carbon footprints. Not only does this benefit the environment, it also makes the business more efficient.


"I'm a strong believer in effective strategies and programs as well as sustainability programs to drive performance," says Indigo Teiwes, senior manager of strategic planning services for Portland-based Ecova, an energy management consulting firm.

The firm starts with one important step: generating organizational alignment. "Energy and sustainability management isn't an activity that can be conducted in one silo of the organization," Teiwes says. "You are not going to get the holistic, higher success rate if you aren't working outside of just the executive level across multiple departments, including procurement, operations, facilities, finance, training and internal and external communication teams."

Teiwes and team begin with one-on-one interviews with leaders and specialists across these groups to understand how their operations work and determine areas in which to integrate sustainability and energy management into day-to-day processes. Paul Kuck, energy manager specialist at Ecova, then conducts on-site audits and assessments to benchmark the process and note areas for improvement. Teiwes and Kuck then work together to develop the plan of action for the foodservice operation.

A recent Ecova success was helping Arby's reduce its energy and water usage across multiple units by $5.5 million annually. In this instance, Ecova began by setting energy goals around five keystones: data, people, infrastructure, marketing/reporting and continual improvement. This information was used to develop a strategic plan that made energy management a part of the company's culture and standard operating procedures. That meant leveraging Arby's operational protocol documents, training materials and regular communication streams to put the plan in place and then share goals with company staff.

To help facilitate this transition, Arby's weekly updates, which are sent to district and general managers, now include news about energy-efficiency related activities that require their attention.

Part of the Arby's plan also involved collaborating with the finance team to develop a capital investment strategy. Some of the changes, such as establishing an equipment on/off schedule, cost little. But replacing older equipment with energy-efficient models required a greater investment.

"An important component of energy and sustainability management is being able to manage an efficiency plan that leads to continued, year-over-year improvement, and to ensure that you have to be able to measure and report on the success," says Teiwes.

Ecova also helps companies reduce waste. At CKE, parent company for Carl's Jr. and Hardee's, Ecova first conducted a waste audit, literally by dumpster diving. Although far from glamorous, these steps help the team weigh, sort through and ultimately note opportunities for waste reduction and diversion. Some of the potential solutions include composting, recycling, and switching to permanentware or compostable disposables. Right-sizing pickup containers also helps reduce waste hauling costs.

"In quick service, back-of-the-house food waste is fairly minimal among chains, but there tends to be more opportunities for recycling when it comes to the dry goods they're sourcing," Kuck says. "In casual dining, food waste is a bigger issue, so we might take a closer look at prepping and other back-of-the-house operations."

Measuring ensures systematic success. Ecova uses a number of web-based, tracking tools for energy analysis based on consumption rather than cost. "Particularly on the energy side, companies have less control on unit price so striving to reduce consumption works better," says Kuck.

Studying and graphing monthly utility and water bills plays into this. Depending on what's being measured, additional metering equipment might be necessary. "Water billing is more complicated because billing frequency is lower than on the energy side, so the information you get is not as detailed," Kuck says. "But looking at performance goals year over year can be a better indicator of water consumption changes."

Carbon reporting, part of which is based on energy consumption, represents another component of developing a sustainable foodservice operation. But other components contribute to greenhouse gases as well, says Kuck. "We develop metrics around either the footprint of the products the company uses or to quantify environmental benefits with projects they're working on," he says.

Publicly traded companies in particular have taken a closer look at their carbon footprint, partly due to pressure from the Carbon Disclosure Project, an international, not-for-profit organization working to tackle climate change.