by Maggie Shea

This article is the online exclusive Business Wise column for the June 2010 issue of Chef Magazine.

Foodservice establishments use five times more energy per square foot than any other commercial building, according to data from the National Restaurant Association (NRA). And Pacific Gas & Electric's energy efficiency advocacy program Food Service Technology Center reports that 80 percent of the $10 billion annual energy bill for commercial foodservice is expended through inefficient cooking.

As reports like these continue to surface, restaurants are under intense pressure to abandon some old bad habits and become more energy efficient. While this may seem like a daunting task, much of what operators can do are simple and commonsense changes to the way they operate on a day-to-day basis. Christopher Moyer, project manager of Conserve, the environmental initiative of the NRA, says that a lot of the inefficiencies simply come from bad habits.

Leaky faucets can waste up to 20 gallons of water in a single day, according to Conserve.

"One example is a lot of restaurant owners are not shutting things down when they should be or turning things off when they aren't using them," he says. "You may not even use a piece of equipment for the first 45 minutes of service but you turn on all 20 of them at the same time. It's not just wasting energy, it's wasting money. But I don't think anything's deliberate--we are creatures of habit."

Other common oversights might be running the dishwasher when it's not full; leaving small appliances like computers, coffee makers or POS systems plugged in when not in use; or not fixing leaky faucets, which can waste up to 20 gallons of water in a single day.

Moyer says that aside from long-term savings and positive environmental impact, conservation is simply a better restaurant business model. "Our mantra has been, even with Conserve, it's about being conservation-minded and physically conservative as well. To make $10, we have to sell $200 worth of stuff. Part of that is looking at energy costs and water costs. You can literally save thousands of dollars a year with little changes like these."

While replacing dishwashers, coolers and hoods with energy-efficient equipment will save a restaurant money over the long term, often such overhauls will cost restaurants tens of thousands of dollars. Moyer says it's best to start by changing small habits and working up to the big investments.

"There are so many things that require no investment, only an investment of time or learning what you have to do," he says. "There are so many no-brainer things out there that don't require a specialized piece of equipment. Take, for example, the hose you use to fill buckets to mop the patio or sidewalk outside. Grabbing something like a broom will get the job done quicker and faster with no water. By using a broom instead of a hose to clean your sidewalk, you can save up to 80 gallons of water. Or if you have a reach-in cooler, invest $15 in a cart. That way, you can move everything from the reach-in to the walk-in cooler at night. Then you can shut that piece of equipment down, saving you 12 hours of energy overnight. Sometimes you just have to think outside the box a little bit."

A few resources for getting started:
  • The Food Service Technology Center Web site ( offers information on equipment performance, expertise in commercial kitchen ventilation, water heating and building energy efficiency, including lighting, glazing and HVAC. Operators can also download a free self-site survey at, which provides an itemized list of the energy- and water-using systems of a typical commercial foodservice establishment that should be targeted during a commercial foodservice energy audit.
  • The EPA Energy Star Web site ( has made a new restaurant guide available for commercial foodservice, which helps restaurant owners and operators improve the performance of their facilities and equipment while reducing energy costs. The PDF guide is also available here.
  • Greener Restaurants is an initiative launched by Conserve and FSTC that provides online tools and education to help restaurants green their business, reduce operating expenses and improve the bottom line. Greener Restaurants offers a starting point for restaurants looking to start reducing their environmental impact and provides value and recognition to operations that have already begun.
  • The Consortium for Energy Efficiency (CEE) is a consortium of efficiency program administrators from across the U.S. and Canada who work together on common approaches to advancing efficiency. Visit for more information.
  • The Green Seal Environmental Standard for Restaurants and Food Services, or GS-46, establishes environmental requirements for restaurants and foodservice operations that have been operating for at least three months preparing and serving food to the general public or private consumers. This includes full-service, limited-service, noncommercial and catering operations. The standard focuses on leadership in environmental improvement in food, waste and energy. And ensure the products you're buying are environmentally friendly by searching for the Green Seal label (pictured, right) on the package. A Green Seal-certified product must meet the Green Seal environmental standard for the category as demonstrated by rigorous evaluation, testing and a plant visit. Green Seal provides third-party corroboration of environmental claims and distinguishes products from competitors that can't support their environmental assertions. The Green Seal certifies everything from coffee filters, parchment and toilet paper to dinner and beverage napkins. Visit To search for specific certified products and services, click here.