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Ask the Experts

Send us your questions: Fill out this form or Tweet to @ConserveNow.

Q:  How should an operator decide if the costs and benefits of installing Energy Star equipment is worth it when there's still life left in their existing equipment?


Richard Young, senior engineer / director of education at the Food Service Technology Center, states:

The answer to when it makes sense to replace a working piece of equipment with a new, more efficient, Energy Star qualified appliance is one that hinges on three numbers.

#1) Current costs and potential savings

The first number that you need to calculate is how much the existing piece of equipment is costing you to operate and how much you would save by shifting to the more efficient piece of equipment. You can generate this number for many appliances by using the free online life-cycle cost calculators available from the Food Service Technology Center.

Enter the information for the appliance you are considering purchasing and compare that to the baseline appliance. Use the difference in the annual cost to operate for the baseline and Energy Star appliances to get an idea of what you will save per year.

Example: Gas Fryer

Base efficiency model:
  • Annual consumption = 1,688 therms
  • Annual energy cost = $1,546
  • Lifetime energy cost = $18,552
Energy efficient model:
  • Annual consumption = 879 therms
  • Annual energy cost = $805
  • Lifetime energy cost = $9,660

Note: Calculators are customizable and include actual brand name and model test results for ease of use!

#2) Cost of maintenance

Next you need to consider how much you are paying to maintain or repair the existing piece of equipment. Sometimes, it may seem less expensive to keep patching up an old piece of equipment when in fact the reduced maintenance costs and significant energy savings from new energy-efficient equipment might make the most financial sense.

#3) Total price of ownership

Finally, you will need the true purchase price and install cost for the new piece of equipment. For some categories of appliances, the energy savings are not enough, on their own, to justify early replacement. The ROI is simply too long. But with some categories, for instance boiler-based steamers, the energy and water savings are so great that it can make sense to replace an existing piece of equipment – especially if that appliance has a few years on it and is costing extra dollars in annual repairs.

Consider performance!

Finally, there is also one more item to consider: more efficient appliances perform better, which can translate to more food produced or better tasting food. That number can also be calculated but it really depends on the operation and it takes a bit more consideration so, we mostly can consider that to be an intangible benefit or more precisely…the icing on the cake!

Q: Is there any data to support consumer spending habits with restaurants that are green vs. restaurants that are not green?


Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the National Restaurant Association's Research & Knowledge Group, summarizes our research findings below.

Restaurateurs have a lot to juggle, but they are realizing more and more that sustainability best practices can lead to major operational cost savings, increased consumer demand and loyalty, and even improved engagement among employees.

While we do not have details on spending habits of consumers as they relate to sustainability, our research does show sustainability can influence consumers’ restaurant selections.

For example, research for our 2013 and 2014 Restaurant Industry Forecast along with our 2013 National Household Survey showed that:

  • 55% of consumers say they are more likely to pick a restaurant that offers menu items that were grown or raised in an organic or environmentally friendly way.
  • 58% of consumers say they are likely to make a restaurant choice based on its eco-friendly practices.
  • A majority of restaurant operators across all segments say their guests are increasingly interested in environmentally sustainable menu items. See in graphic A below.
  • In 2012, restaurant operators across all segments planned investments in equipment and fixtures to help save energy and water. See graphic B below. 

Green practices are also particularly appealing to the millennial demographic. Our research showed the following results for 18-34 year olds:

  • 43% feel that organic or environmentally-friendly food is an important factor in their tableservice dining decisions.
  • 59% said they are likely to make a restaurant choice based on a restaurant’s eco-friendly and sustainability practices and 63% based on how much a restaurant supports charitable activities and the local community.
  • 67% said they are more likely to visit a restaurant that offers locally-produced food items.

Graphic A: Sustainability Gains Popularity (see full-size graphic here)

Graphic B: Putting Energy Into Conservation (see full-size graphic here)


Q: What are some good ways to stop wasting water?


A few tips from Richard Young, Food Service Technology Center, and Jeff Clark, Conserve program director:

  • Find and fix. Walk around your restaurant, find any leaks and fix them. Look around hand sinks, mop sinks and dish machines. Fixing washers on pot sinks and hand sinks is easy and inexpensive. You can save thousands of dollars.
  • Measure. Assess your water use; this gives you a way to identify future savings and track results. Kitchen equipment and processes account for the heaviest use of water in restaurants, so focus there first. Restrooms come in second (citation).
  • Replace. Consider replacing equipment like food disposals and dipper wells that discharge water continuously. At the least, shut them off when they’re not in use. Install low-flow, water-efficient spray valves on kitchen and bathroom faucets. They’re inexpensive and will save you money on the back end.