Keeping the foodservice equipment marketplace up to date with the latest menu and concept trends.


Reality Check on Green Kitchen Design

Budget, ROI and thinking through operational aspects all come into play when considering environmentally friendly equipment specifications.

Kitchen designers typically work closely with architects and ownership, and often when the conversation turns to efforts around greener operations, even the best sustainability-related intentions can hit a roadblock in the name of budget and return on investment. “As much as we want to advocate and push for sustainability, there has to be give and take as to what we can get across the finish line,” says Kenneth Patronski, project manager, Cini-Little. “It comes down to using good equipment, but this comes with a price tag where those formulas come into play.”

Sustainable by design NGAssociates 1One way to address budget considerations is to engage in the long-term ROI conversation. Pamela A. Eaton, FCSI, LEED AP, project manager, consultant, NGAssociates Foodservice Consultants Inc., often makes that connection with clients interested in more sustainable efforts but must also contend with tight budget constraints. “If a more efficient fryer costs a couple thousand dollars more, but it saves on oil and energy use, there is value in that over time,” she explains. “Many of our clients in the tech industry are very focused on their overall carbon footprint and how they can be the most sustainable. It goes back to looking at what we are using and how we can use less. There are positives in sustainability and cost reduction.”

Designing for sustainability (and budget) can also start with size, Eaton says. One means to that end can come through “creating smaller kitchens that can handle the same production capacity as larger spaces,” she notes, “and being aware of the physical engineering of the space.”

Indeed, designing with sustainability in mind adds complexity to the role of the foodservice designer. As the green movement becomes more mainstream, so too do eco-friendly conversations around greener solutions in commercial and noncommercial kitchens.

More projects now include achieving LEED and WELL certifications among their goals, says Chuck Schuler, project manager for Cini-Little. “Which does affect kitchen design,” he says. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a green building rating system. WELL is a performance-based system for measuring, certifying and monitoring features of the built environment.

“We often get tasked with accommodating as much equipment on the LEED side as possible, depending on the points needed to get into certification level,” Patronski adds. “It starts at whether refrigerators and freezers are ENERGY STAR rated, and most are these days.” Low flow rate prerinse sprayers and faucets are two other specific items he sees being incorporated in more designs now.

Water & Energy

On the warewashing side, features that can contribute to meeting sustainability goals include recapturing water or heat.On the warewashing side, features that can contribute to meeting sustainability goals include recapturing water or heat.“Equipment manufacturers have been going after solutions to reduce energy usage and water consumption,” says Nahum Goldberg, FCSI, LEED AP, principal, NGAssociates Foodservice Consultants Inc. “And commercial kitchens have the most extensive usage of water and energy per square foot compared to other commercial spaces.”

On the warewashing side, features that can contribute to meeting sustainability goals include recapturing water or heat. “For example, taking rinse water and using it to preheat incoming water so dish machines don’t need hot water after the initial fill,” she says. “Some machines don’t need hot water at all as these utilize heat from rinse tanks. There are warewashers that can reuse high temperature final rinse water and pump it through to prerinse plates. Because fresh water is not being used for prerinse, overall water use is reduced.”

But these advanced features often come at a cost. “There are many opportunities to incorporate this equipment that can do this, but it depends on the overall output of the space and budget,” Patronski says. “These units are great from a sustainability standpoint, but they are more costly.”

Incorporating electric equipment in place of gas also often comes with specific infrastructure requirements. “In terms of the impact on design, operators need to have conversations early with all-electric kitchen renovations to ensure the building’s utility capacity can accommodate the equipment,” says Jeremy Carver, principal with Denver-based Ricca Design Studios.

Image courtesy of NGAssociates 4Image courtesy of NGAssociates Foodservice Consultants Inc.When transitioning to an all-electric kitchen, it also becomes important to allocate time for the culinary team to adapt. Chefs in the U.S. are not yet up to speed on cooking in all-electric kitchen spaces, says Carver, noting that all-electric kitchens are more common in Europe. “Operators may at first find themselves burning product,” he says. But once operators get the hang of it, he believes chefs “typically prefer induction over gas once they adopt it.”

In addition to lowering an operation’s carbon footprint, using electric equipment can contribute to a more pleasant working environment for the culinary staff, Eaton notes, explaining that the lack of an open flame can make the kitchen cooler. “We’re seeing unintended positive consequences moving away from gas equipment and the heat and byproducts coming off of them,” Eaton adds.

And less heat in the space can lead to a reduction in HVAC and ventilation loads, Eaton says, which can also lower energy usage. “We’ve also found that commercial kitchens were incorporating certain types of induction ranges into a design that are more powerful than these need to be,” Eaton says. “Perceptions around power requirements for induction units have changed based on the experience of culinary professionals and their understanding that the efficiency, speed of heating and cooking is so much higher than standard gas equivalents. This has allowed selection of lower powered units with a lower electrical load to the building and lower overall energy usage to save money all around for clients.”

Permanent Ware Push

A more tangible eco-friendly conversation that Patronski has more frequently as of late centers on incorporating permanent ware. It’s one of the biggest asks with “Equipment manufacturers have been going after solutions to reduce energy usage and  water consumption.”“Equipment manufacturers have been going after solutions to reduce energy usage and water consumption.”projects now, he says. “Operators don’t want the expense of disposables, or they don’t have the space for it,” he says. “With storage space at a premium in today’s commercial kitchens, filling areas with boxes of disposables is not the best use of the back of house.”

China or other permanent ware requires less storage space than disposables, Patronski contends. “With disposables, there are many more SKUs for containers and serving ware.”

From a design and equipment standpoint, incorporating permanent ware will lead to a warewashing discussion. “With a larger influx of china, the dishwashing area needs to scale to that,” Patronski says. “In terms of size, a 30- to 36-inch warewashing unit may need to go up to 48 inches. This means an increase of space in the lineup.”

“Overall, it seems like people are trying to be more environmentally friendly by using china and permanent ware,” Patronski says. Where that applies to design, he adds, is ensuring enough counter space to accommodate plating with permanent ware, and considering the operational side. “What is the plan to deal with the larger influx of items that need to be washed? You need to deal with removing permanent ware from tables or trash drop-off areas. An apparatus may be needed to bring these items to the kitchen for washing,” he says.

California initiated a push toward permanent ware this summer when the state allocated $15 million for commercial dishwasher grants to K-12 schools in an effort to reduce the amount of single-use food ware in landfills. Schools will be eligible for up to $40,000 per kitchen for dish machines and related upgrades to help facilitate the switch from disposables to reusable ware.

Tech Impact

Multifunctional equipment can play an important role in sustainable design in a variety of ways. First, by definition, the items perform multiple functions, which in While sustainability remains a hot topic, the fact remains sustainable design will remain easier said than done.While sustainability remains a hot topic, the fact remains sustainable design will remain easier said than done.turn likely results in fewer pieces of equipment. In addition, less equipment beneath the hood often reduces the length of the hood, which can yield other design opportunities without compromising sustainability goals.

“Capturing opportunities to locate exhaust hoods against the wall rather than in an island format reduces the CFM per foot and energy costs,” Carver explains.

Demand-controlled ventilation represents another technology-supported advancement in sustainable design initiatives. “For example, operations with a baking program may cook more in the morning, so designs that incorporate an exhaust hood that modulates due to demand helps conserve energy,” Patronski says. “It comes down to how many exhaust hoods are needed, as there is a threshold where there are benefits.”

Smart cooking equipment, including Wi-Fi- or Bluetooth-enabled items, can also help operators meet their sustainability goals. “This shuts timers off at a certain time so food is not overcooked,” Schuler says. “Also, doing more with less [by using multi-functional or technologically advanced equipment] and reducing human error and food waste benefits the long-term goal of clients.”

While sustainability remains a hot topic, the fact remains sustainable design will remain easier said than done. From incorporating emerging technologies to navigating a rapidly changing landscape of government edicts, this process will remain complex, and success will require collaboration. “Operators should be part of the conversation at all stages of a design process, utilize a foodservice consultant and ask questions to validate what is applicable for the operation as early as possible (ideally in initial programming for a facility),” Carver says.