Sustainability is the foodservice industry's new favorite buzzword, and we generally apply this term to a process such as the ongoing use of energy and water or the way operators source ingredients.

Laurie Friedrich-Bargebuhr

When it comes to foodservice equipment, energy use tends to dominate much of the conversation for many reasons. When deciding which piece of equipment to purchase, it is usually easy for foodservice operators to compare energy usage and foodservice manufacturers are, or at least they should be, concerned with designing equipment that uses fewer natural resources. It is time, however, to broaden the scope of this aspect of the sustainability conversation to look at more than the resources a piece of equipment consumes during its service life. When it comes to the sustainable aspects of foodservice equipment purchases it is time to take a more holistic approach. In doing so, we must consider whether the individual piece of equipment will fulfill the goals of performance, value and sustainability.

Of course performance is paramount, and in today's challenging economy value is very important. Taking a look at the equipment's sustainability will either add to or subtract from that value in the eyes of the customer. In other words, when calculating the price of a specific piece of equipment look past the dollar amount on the invoice to factor in operating, maintenance and, in some instances, disposal costs. In simple terms, an inexpensive or obsolete piece of equipment that needs frequent repairs and/or uses excess energy will soon become too expensive to operate.

This point often gets lost in large organizations where different departments are responsible for purchasing, operating, and maintaining foodservice equipment. The purchasing department that gets a low price from an equipment vendor is not necessarily concerned with how much it will cost to operate or maintain it, as those costs fall under another department's responsibility. However, when you look at equipment holistically, all factors should be taken into account.

While most foodservice operators watch energy costs for their own savings and to be good corporate citizens, an increasing number are setting goals around reducing the amount of waste generated by their operations for the same reasons. Parts that wear out end up in the trash and eventually in the landfill. When making a purchasing decision, understanding this should lead to the careful consideration of how equipment is designed and built, of what parts will need replacement and when, and what this means to the total cost of the equipment over its useful life.

The savvy foodservice equipment consumer will appreciate higher grade materials and workmanship, and will see the value in manufacturers that do not build in obsolescence but commit to a higher standard of manufacturing processes. While a goal of zero replacement parts may not be achievable, it should not prevent manufacturers from working in this direction.

A holistic way of thinking will produce new designs and approaches from manufacturers, and purchasers will do well to embrace the changes and reap the benefits. As Einstein said, "You can never solve a problem on the same level on which it was created."