Despite the challenging economy, the talk of "going green" continues to flourish. In fact, the difficult business environment provides an even greater impetus for foodservice operators to take action to become more sustainable. Shifting to green and socially responsible products and behaviors can be a smart investment.

Jill Stoneberg, Marketing Manager, Community Energy Radnor, Pa.
Jill Stoneberg, Marketing Manager, Community Energy Radnor, Pa.

When deciding which green actions to take, foodservice operators can choose from countless options, but some choices tend not to be obvious as others. What about choosing how the electricity for your foodservice operation is generated? Most of us don't think about the environmental impact associated with the electricity required to make our day-to-day operations possible. Nor do most people know that they have a choice to support renewable sources of energy without having to install a wind turbine or solar panels on their roof.

To date, thousands of businesses and organizations have made the switch to renewable energy. According to the Environmental Protection Agency's Green Power Partnership program, more than 1,000 businesses and organizations have registered their renewable energy commitments to be part of the EPA's nationally recognized program. This number continues to grow as businesses in all industries, including foodservice, realize the benefits of making the switch to green through the purchase of Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs).

Electricity generation is the largest contributor to releasing greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. A REC represents a unit of renewable electricity added to that national or local electricity grid. For a small premium, a business can purchase RECs to match a portion or all of their electricity use and then claim the environmental and social benefits associated with adding a carbon-free energy source. In short, purchasing RECs allow you to be part of the climate change solution.

Renewable energy offers other benefits, including:

  • Communicates powerfully to your customers
  • Decreases the carbon footprint of your electricity use
  • Drives the demand for more clean energy sources, like wind farms, to be built

Foodservice companies continue to include wind power as they make their operations more environmentally friendly. In addition, some companies continue to use creative angles to spread the word about their efforts. A popular bakery/cafe in New York City, the City Bakery made its initial plunge into the green movement by using locally and sustainability harvested ingredients. This operation extended its efforts through a commitment to wind power to match 100 percent of the facility's electricity usage. The City Bakery also displays information about its wind energy commitment in the store to encourage customers to make the switch to green.

Long renowned for its green efforts, Brooklyn Brewery created a buzz by hosting wind powered events and promoting its commitment through creative marketing tactics, including the slogan "there's wind in their ales." Brooklyn Brewery's commitment differentiates its product from others and resonates well with the microbrewery's customer base.

Because renewable energy is slightly more expensive than conventional sources, REC purchases allow existing facilities to remain in business and send a signal about the demand for cleaner energy options. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, this voluntary market represents half of all renewable energy supply from facilities built since 1997.

Changing times call for changing actions. As businesses, including foodservice companies, take steps to meet the current economic and environmental challenges, we are sure to see a growing focus on changing the way we generate electricity in the U.S. Early adopters that want to be part of this exiting change can act now to set themselves apart, gain a competitive advantage and send a powerful message to their stakeholders.