As chefs whip up healthier meals in the kitchen, they’re also cooking with “greener” equipment. For those with the inclination and the budgets, the idea of reducing a kitchen’s carbon footprint is becoming more popular in the move towards sustainable operations.
While eco-friendly equipment can range from the innovative to the mundane, the best cost savings are found in energy-guzzling kitchen machines such as cooktops, HVAC and warewashers. The good news is product innovation, combined with smart design decisions, can turn down the energy consumption while turning up overall operational savings.
“Stovetops, warewashers and HVAC are pretty much where most of the energy goes in most restaurants,” confirms André LaRivière, an independent sustainable foodservice consultant in Vancouver. Food preparation accounts for 40 per cent of energy costs, sanitation and HVAC each account for 25 per cent to 30 per cent of costs, and refrigeration, combined with lighting, accounts for less than 20 per cent of costs. So, smart kitchen designs pump less heat and require less overall ventilation, says the consultant.
Keep it cool
In fact, there’s been a noticeable shift to equipment that generates less heat, and that includes cooktops, so the industry is increasingly transitioning to induction. “North American kitchens are starting to realize induction is a big deal, because you can have a more comfortable workspace,” LaRivière explains.
Induction isn’t the only energy-friendly choice, he adds. Combi-ovens and rapid-cook ovens are also extremely efficient, as both technologies can replace steamers and other heat-generating appliances. “That’s a really smart way to set up a kitchen, and you can get that extra 10 per cent in energy savings,” LaRivière notes.
The new cooking labs at the School of Hospitality and Culinary Arts at Red River College in Winnipeg have 40 built-in induction cooktops (worth approximately $40,000), reports Jeff Gill, acting chair. “While we do train students on every type of cooking equipment, induction will eventually take over. We’re seeing it more and more in new kitchens being built.”
Moving forward, eco-friendly ventilation seems to save the most green. To that end, a lot of restaurants are choosing demand-control ventilation, which only turns on when it senses heat. “If you’re operating in any kind of green building it’s a given these days, because the return on investment is so clear,” LaRivière says.
Two technologies in particular are playing an important role in promoting ecologically sound ventilation systems, says Gary Lummis, principal with Lummis & Co. Ltd., foodservice consultants in Fredericton. “Capture Jet by Halton is one. It uses a very gentle air curtain so air stays inside the hood. It’s very simple and effective and can reduce exhaust air by 40 per cent or more, which also reduces make-up air requirements. When used in conjunction with [ultra-violet filtration] technology, it produces much cleaner air that can be exhausted to the street or even reused.”
The HVAC system at Red River College is that exact combination of features. It boasts $2.3-million worth of Halton on-demand exhaust hoods with UV filtration that enables heat recovery. “Rather than exhausting air from the canopy outside, it goes to a closed heat pump system to supplement building heating,” says Gill. “It’s pretty innovative.”
Jared Wolf is also innovative. When the executive chef and owner of Allegro Grill in Sydney, N.S., was renovating a few years ago, he applied his environmental technology degree to inform his equipment choices. “The overhaul gave me an opportunity to incorporate a lot of environmentally friendly systems as well as lower the footprint for consumption of everything from electricity to waste water.” One of those choices was an air-to-air HVAC system, compared to traditional groundwater-based heating system. Among other benefits, it operates at extreme cold temperatures, eliminating the need to revert to electric heating on colder days.
Technological innovation is well noted in the warewashing category. “Hobart and a few others have developed ventless dishwashing machines that work really well. They use very little water and not much energy and don’t pump a lot of steam into the room,” LaRivière says.
According to Lummis, warewashing is one area where a lot of savings can be realized, especially in institutional settings. “It’s probably the most expensive machine in the kitchen; it’s an area where technology is moving faster than most other areas of foodservice,” he says.
The Lummis & Co. consultant contends that Europeans are “miles ahead” in warewashing innovation in terms of energy- and water-reduction features, because they are more vigilant about water use. He adds: “Electrolux is building some of the most beautiful ones you can imagine; all fully insulated with computerized controls.”
Eco-minded warewashing equipment also includes multi-tank systems to enable water reuse and heat recapture on larger systems.
Warewashing has also provided significant innovation at Allegro. During the renovation, Wolf invested in an Electrolux warewashing sanitizer that uses one-third of what traditional systems use. “We were the first in Atlantic Canada to purchase it,” he says. “The unit was about $5,800, which was about a $1,500 premium, but when you consider how many times we can recycle the water and the reduction in hot-water usage, we realized the savings within five years.”
A nifty extra that cost $420 was a copper-tube installation on the drain system. The tubes wrap around the intake pipes to the hot-water heaters that supply the warewasher. “That means waste water coming out of the system preheats the water going into the tanks. It saves energy, and it’s quite cost-effective,” Wolf explains. “And, it’s a simple installation, as long as you locate your hot-water tanks close to the warewasher.”
And, within the warewashing category, there are interesting advancements in waste removal. One technology of note is a vacuum food-waste management system, which is offered by Meiko and Hobart. Here’s how it works: food waste is dumped into a receptacle where a large diameter pipe is attached to a suction machine to remove waste from the work area. Once removed, the waste is transferred to a storage tank and piped to a truck for delivery to a landfill, composting site or to produce fertilizer (among other options).
Lummis reports that Camp Borden, a military training base in Borden, Ont., is the first site in North America to test the Meiko vacuum system. The site’s two kitchens combined serve three meals a day to 4,000
people. The vacuum system alone, including the piping, costs approximately $500,000. “The washers were another $350,000,” Lummis says. Payback is expected to be achieved within three years, based on labour and energy savings.
While going the eco-route may come at a premium, it makes perfect business sense. “Yes, it was a personal choice, but it was also a smart business move when you factor in the energy savings,” says Wolf.