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Building a sustainable restaurant? These 3 tips will help

April 16, 2015

What should a restaurant owner consider before taking on a sustainable build-out?

First, have a clear sustainability vision. If you’re looking to promote sustainability at your restaurant, it is hugely helpful if you can come to the design and operations teams at the beginning and tell them you want to focus on energy and water efficiency, or waste reduction. It’s also important to talk in specifics, such as the amount of energy use you’d like to reduce against a traditional baseline or whether you want to focus on diverting food waste from the landfill waste stream.

Does that usually happen?
The truth is many operators are unsure of what they want to accomplish so even having general, broad sustainability goals can give us a starting point to ask more questions, offer potential solutions and collaborate on the best design.

What numbers, in your opinion, are typically reasonable?
Reducing energy by 10 to 15 percent is fairly easy for new builds or renovations. By using Energy Star equipment, along with energy saving design strategies, you typically can achieve that number.  Also, if you look a little closer at the type of equipment you’re using – for example, the particular models you’ve selected for high use equipment – you could probably achieve 20 percent savings against a more traditional restaurant.

What are three key things restaurateurs should think about first?
Maintaining your sustainability goals all the way through the design process can be challenging, but here are a few tips to help. First, don’t be afraid to use technology. There are a lot of tools available. The Foodservice Technology Center has a lifecycle calculator that shows how much energy you can save by selecting certain equipment.  At our firm, we often use 3D modeling to help explain and communicate what the design would look like, which allows for greater collaboration and decision making earlier on in the process. Second, have a clear vision. Identify your true sustainability goals and what you’re trying to accomplish because these projects often can run into budget issues. It’s important to know what you’re willing to compromise on and what you’re not. Third, select and encourage your in-house sustainability champions. Find people on your design and operations teams who can promote your sustainability goals throughout the process. They will make your sustainability program successful.

Tarah Schroeder is a principal and the sustainability director at Ricca Design Studios, which specializes in sustainable restaurant design project