Cutting the Cord


From energy hogs to energy savers, the restaurant industry is cleaning up its act.

Every industry has its environmental champions and foodservice is no exception. There is no shortage of operations — from local cafés to North American-wide chains — proving energy conservation and sustainability don’t have to mean compromising the bottom line.

The foodservice industry has always been energy-challenged. In fact, it ranks as one of the most prolific consumers of energy, given the constant use — and misuse — of equipment that draws on electricity reserves by the reactor-load. According to Janine Bolton, president of LEAF (Leaders in Environmentally Accountable Foodservice), a Calgary-based third-party audit and certification service, restaurants consume approximately five times more energy than other commercial buildings and facilities. While no foodservice operator worth his salt can operate without stoves, ventilation and hot-water systems going full tilt during peak times, there are ample opportunities to put a lid on the energy-guzzling spiral.

You just need to talk to those who’ve done it.


As the owner of a new café in the Evergreen Brick Works facility in Toronto, Brad Long had the right tools in place to create an energy-efficient operation. For one, the building envelope had already been developed to meet Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum criteria.

“In this instance, all I had to do was drop equipment in a space that had been engineered for that purpose,” the restaurateur and Food Network host says. The space already had radiant-heated floors, windows that opened, heat exchangers to draw heat from an adjacent ice-skating arena and hoods for recovering heat.

According to Robert Plitt, manager of sustainability for Evergreen Brick Works, there is a plethora of energy-saving  features at the new eatery, including high-rated insulation, triple-glazed windows that keep out UV radiation, fibreglass window frames and airtight vapour barriers. “I’d say that with this building enveloping alone, we’ve knocked down energy use by 12 to 15 per cent.”

Beyond the envelope, amenities include intelligent lighting controls that respond to daylight; solar chimneys for heating, cooling and ventilation; heat exchange systems; solar thermal domestic hot-water units; and a healthy supply of green electricity from Bullfrog Power. Long notes achieving high levels of energy efficiency in kitchens could be a challenge if you only focus on equipment. “When it comes down to it, you can’t change how a stove or fridge is powered. There is no ‘new world’ yet in cooking equipment. While we got some of the most efficient equipment we could, such as induction, we use gas and electricity like everybody else.”

In a bold move, Long opted out of putting in an air-conditioning system. “I asked instead if we could just open a window.”

It’s a viable option since the café’s narrow floor space and open windows create natural ventilation, explains Plitt. “When combined with the solar chimneys and pre-cooling of the floor system at night, you can minimize the need for air  conditioning.”

Ask Long if more could be done, and he’ll tell you, “There are always extremes you can go to. I suppose you could set up bicycles to heat things. I’d say we’re at the upper end of the curve; not because I did something extraordinary, but because I had the base building that allowed me to do these things.”


Late last year, when Sal Howell opened Boxwood, a sister site to her successful River Café in Calgary, sustainability was already an integral part of her business model. She had managed to acquire level-two LEAF certification for the River Café in an independent audit. With the new location, she scored enough points to achieve level-three status — a first in the LEAF books and the highest attainable rating. “After the LEAF audit at the River Café, we knew we could go that extra step with Boxwood,” she says.

Like Long, she was able to work with a new space that was designed for efficiency. “We had a building envelope built to LEED standards. And, we had the opportunity to put in new equipment that provided greater efficiency and met current eco standards.”

With a clean slate, she was able to make the best choices in available technologies. Lighting was a big area of focus. “We invested in some LED and compact fluorescent lighting in certain areas, motion-sensor faucets and low-flow toilets. We also make use of natural lighting.”

Both sites use wind power provided by Bullfrog Power, which can cost 10 to 20 per cent more a month than traditional electricity. While there is a premium associated with buying wind power, Howell reports the decision made them scrutinize energy usage when they signed on at the River Café three years ago. “We looked at our consumption and things like lights-off programs, turning off equipment and maximizing natural light. Within eight months we saved more than what Bullfrog energy cost.”

While she has yet to assess her energy numbers for Boxwood, she reports River Café reduced energy consumption by 15 per cent through its energy-saving initiatives.

Monitoring day-to-day activities is also a big part of the energy efficiency picture, she adds. “You can build a restaurant and choose equipment, but then a large part of being a green operation is what you do on a day-to-day basis; that means developing green procedures and following through with them as a group.”


As it continues to carve out its niche in the Canadian marketplace, Denver-based Chipotle Mexican Grill brings with it a history in sustainability and energy-conservation practices. According to Chris Arnold, the brand’s communications director, it all started with a sustainability commitment for the ingredients it uses.

“Sustainability started with the food, then carried on into the designing and building of our restaurants.” To that end the newest sites, including two locations in Toronto, feature recycled materials, low-volatile organic compound (VOC) paints and a number of energy saving features.

Those features include low-E (emissivity) glass designed to keep heat out in summer and in during the winter months; photocell lighting controls that automatically adjust based on the availability of natural light; factory-programmed thermostat settings to reduce heating and cooling costs; high-efficiency heating and air-conditioning systems; and Energy Star kitchen equipment acquisitions.

“More recently we’ve started to do things like installing smaller grills,” Arnold says. “They require smaller hood fans, which mean less energy consumption.” Tankless on-demand water heaters are also used where municipalities allow.

Chipotle’s biggest environmental claim to fame is having the first dedicated restaurant facility in the U.S. to be LEED-Platinum certified. Located in Gurnee, Ill., near Chicago, the restaurant has its own wind turbine and an underground cistern for harvesting rainwater for irrigation.

“This was a project where we pulled out all the stops and put in everything we could,” Arnold says. Chipotle also has LEED-certified facilities in Minneapolis and New York.

While a few sites use solar power, it’s not always easy to get landlords on board. “Even when we go through all the [feasibility] processes, it’s shocking how many landlords will say no,” says Arnold.

Chipotle looks at the costs and rewards of greening differently than others. “Most people look at the cost of going green. We come at it the other way. We take our development costs, which are typically $850,000, and see what we can do within that framework. In doing that, we’re able to make lots of design changes to make things more energy efficient. Ultimately, we believe that’s a much more sustainable approach.”


ENERGY EFFICIENCY is as much about good habits as it is about equipment. Cutting unnecessary energy use can reduce a restaurant’s environmental impact and shrink annual energy bills by thousands of dollars. Below is a list of energy-saving tips from the Leaders in Environmentally Accountable Foodservice, a Calgary-based third-party audit and certification service.

• install dimmable compact fluorescent lights, LED exit signs and motion sensors in low-use areas

• adjust thermostat by a few degrees to save up to 15 per cent in energy costs

• retrofit old exhaust fans with dual settings that can be turned down during non-peak periods

• repair leaky faucets, only run the dishwasher when full and pre-soak plates and cutlery

• avoid unnecessarily large motors and choose ones equipped with energy-efficient drive belts and adjustable speed drives

• order supplies and dry goods in larger quantities, less often, to reduce packaging

• use Energy Star appliances

• repair and maintain equipment, including refrigerator condenser and evaporator coils, air filters, worn belts and missing knobs

• train staff to keep doors closed, reduce idle time and turn off equipment when not needed



BELOW is a list of links to help kick off an energy-saving mandate: – Canada Green Building Council – Leaders in Environmentally Accountable Foodservice, an audit and certification company – The Food Service Technology Center, which rates equipment – The Green Restaurant Association – a carbon-management solutions provider that helps organizations offset their carbon footprint

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