Following the LEED

Heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) represents a big chunk of energy usage in a commercial kitchen. Appropriately, the LEED guidelines for Energy and Atmosphere are responsible for the largest amount of possible points on the LEED checklist. So regardless of whether pursuing LEED certification, foodservice operators and designers can choose from a number of equipment solutions to promote efficiency in this important area.

Ed Arons, FCSI, senior associate at Colburn & Guyette in Rockland, Mass., points out that conventional exhaust systems stay on 24/7, wasting energy during low-usage periods. Variable-speed drive systems will save energy and, of course, money. He has found that operators see the value of the on-demand systems right away and the return on their investment immediately.

By reducing the amount of exhaust, the variable-speed system will also reduce the amount of make-up air necessary to balance the air in the kitchen. Make-up air, or fresh air, requires heating or cooling depending on the outside temperature to match the air in the inside environment. Reducing the needed make-up air means savings. Foodservice kitchens are intensive users of water and operators pay three times for it: incoming, usage and outgoing, points out Ray Soucie, FCSI, LEED AP, president of RSA, Inc. in Portland, Ore. Foodservice operators that put in the proper equipment can "put money in their pockets," he advises. He predicts that, within 10 years, all conventional dishwashing equipment will be replaced by energy and water efficient models.

A number of new energy-efficient dishwashing machines available today can significantly cut down on water usage. Cini-Little's Goldberg has had success including energy recovery systems. In one model, exhaust steam is used to preheat incoming water, thus saving energy. Some energy-efficient dishmachines are also able to cascade water from the 180 degree F final rinse down to pre-rinse. This allows the system to reuse the water several times during the rinse, wash and sanitizing processes. And if an operation uses a rack machine, Goldberg says, water usage can go from two to three gallons per rack to less than one by using this technology.

Reducing water consumption can lead to other unintended benefits, adds Pamela Eaton, FCSI, LEED AP, senior associate at Cini-Little. Using less water means the use of dishwashing chemicals will decline, benefiting the environment as well as the bottom line.

It's easy to attack the issue of water usage, Colburn & Guyette's Arons says. In addition to energy-efficient dishwashing units that significantly lower the gallons per hour used, low-flow faucets for pre-rinsing are useful and very easy to implement. Arons says that the average foodservice operation uses 300,000 gallons of water a year. Switching to a low-flow pre-rinse valve system alone can save around $3,000 annually.

Operators can enhance their waste management efforts by using a pulper, Goldberg says. These units reduce food scraps to pulp and extrude it into compost bins. Another more expensive but more efficient solution is a pulper that grinds leftover food into gray water to be drained into the sewer system.

Soucie agrees with using waste pulping. "It reduces the amount of waste the restaurant has to pay to get hauled off," he explains. "Pulpers can go in any location. If they are placed under the dishwashing machine, PVC pipe can be run out to a dumpster. This also allows the footprint to be smaller."

Along those lines, during a school project in Redmond, Ore., Soucie and the team were able to eliminate ozone-depleting refrigerant by using food-grade glycol to chill under-counter refrigerated drawers and walk-in coolers.

Some operations seek alternative ways to create electricity. Goldberg has a client that has installed wind turbines to create a power assist. Soucie points out that solar energy, while it can help heat water, is generally not enough to supply a kitchen. While it can be incorporated into the power supply, the large number of solar panels necessary takes more space than what is generally available.

Materials and Resources

When choosing materials foodservice operators and designers have a variety of ways to be green. Designers look for recycled counter tops or formaldehyde-free wood. When possible, they purchase materials locally to reduce the carbon footprint of delivery.

Lighting represents another important area. For example, the use of LED lighting can lower costs, according to Melanie Corey-Ferrini, AIA, founder of Seattle-based Dynamikspace. LED technology allows the foodservice operation to go to a 10-watt fixture instead of the more commonly used 75-watt fixture. The lifetime of LED lights is also longer. While a regular light has an average life span of 3,500 hours, an LED light can last up to 40,000 to 50,000 hours, she says.

Soucie believes all sustainable practices should be embraced as long as they have a proven track record. "I don't want to make guinea pigs out of my clients," he says. "But we're there now and there are answers that are affordable."

While some commercial kitchens are designed for a building owner without a specific foodservice concept in mind, the optimal approach is to start with the menu and design the equipment around the food preparation. John Turenne has a company called Sustainable Food Systems in Wallingford, Conn. A former chef and foodservice manager in large institutional operations, like Yale University, he now helps "bridge the gap from conventional to sustainable." By this, he means not only the sustainability of the facility but the sustainability, i.e. health and well-being, of the body through good food or "real" food, as he calls it.

His approach involves going back to the basics and cooking from scratch to ensure that food retains its nutritional value and taste. In doing so, Turenne employs a balanced and systemic approach to foodservice design.

He advocates planning for processing equipment, ovens, steam kettles and the like that not only produce the right menu but also support good working conditions for those who "work in the trenches." Heat in the kitchen, for instance, can be a stress factor. If designed correctly, ventilation can reduce that problem. And, naturally, Turenne is a big proponent of the previously mentioned variable speed, or on-demand, exhaust systems that work when ventilation is needed rather than being on all day.