Business and Operations
The energy challenge: Taking steps towards energy-efficiency in your pizzeria
By Andrew Hind
Taking steps toward energy-efficiency isn’t as expensive as it used to be
By Andrew Hind
Restaurants use a lot of energy as a matter of operation. The power required in the kitchen for cooking, refrigeration, heating and cooling – not to mention front-of-house needs – make pizzerias and restaurants of all types extremely energy intensive. That adds up to expensive energy bills.
Finding ways to be more energy efficient isn’t just good for the environment – laudable as that may be – but it also makes good business sense.
“Margins in the restaurant industry are slim, so saving up to 20 per cent on your energy bills – an attainable goal – would make a real impact on the bottom line,” explains Mohammad Haque, environmental co-chair for LEAF (Leaders in Environmentally Accountable Foodservice), a national, non-profit food-service certification program focusing on sustainability. “There is an initial outlay of costs because retrofitting can be expensive – energy-efficient appliances cost 10-20 per cent more than normal – but the long-term ROI is high.”
Electricity prices continue to increase, tripled in some places in Canada since 2018. This makes it more important than ever for food-service operators to save electricity. Thankfully, becoming energy efficient is getting easier just as electricity prices soar.
“As recently as three to five years ago, there were relatively few restaurants seeking to become energy efficient and the solutions were far fewer and far less affordable,” explains Alex Joseph, LEAF’s other environmental co-chair. “Over the last few years, many more options have become available so that there are now more opportunities to make affordable choices.”
The simplest ways to begin saving is to retrofit buildings with LED bulbs, which use at least 75-90 per cent less energy than incandescent bulbs. At the same time, adding sensors for lighting in offices, bathrooms and walk-in fridges will minimize energy wastage. Install a programmable thermostat. Some new models can be set to adjust the temperature in specific areas as well as at specific times, so you won’t be heating or cooling unused areas unnecessarily.
Ovens and refrigeration use copious amounts of electricity. Upgrading to energy-efficient appliances can result in immediate savings: ENERGY STAR certified equipment uses 30-90 per cent less energy than standard models while also offering high performance. It’s estimated that an ENERGY STAR fridge alone can save $1,000 a year in electricity bills.
And don’t overlook small fixes. Even though they may seem inconsequential, regular maintenance matters. Fix leaky taps, caulk windows, dust lightbulbs, ensure freezers aren’t overloaded and therefore overworking.
While not directly related to energy, Joseph notes that water and waste removal represent genuine opportunities for positively impacting both the environment and a business’ bottom line. “Most restaurateurs have firm budgets and know exactly what they spend on salaries and food, for example, but many don’t have a benchmark when it comes to water and waste costs, and therefore haven’t addressed the issue of money spent on these areas,” he explains.
For water conservation, Alex recommends installing ENERGY STAR dishwashers, which use 40 per cent less water than standard models. He also recommends flow restrictors on kitchen faucets, and low-low taps and toilets in all restrooms, which use substantially less water than older models.
A comprehensive list of energy-efficiency focused best practices can be at the LEAF website (https://www.leafme.org).
A successful energy-efficiency program benefits from the willing engagement and participation of your staff. Simply by making some basic changes in their routines, staff members can help to dramatically decrease energy usage. In fact, staff training and awareness can cut energy costs by two to 10 per cent, exclusive of other energy-efficiency measures.
“It’s difficult to convince people if there isn’t an established culture, so it’s vital that leadership ingrain the culture and make it a part of everyday practice,” Haque explains. “Staff have to be made to understand their role in conserving energy, and relevant information has to be readily available for staff to digest.”
Acting without consultation discourages staff participation. Create a checklist for opening/closing procedures, clearly define goals and agree on responsibilities, and have meetings to emphasize the importance of energy conservation and encourage your employees to participate by asking for their input. Staff habits will slowly shift, but soon energy conservation will become part of their daily routine.
“Young staff are thinking this way already, so engage them,” Joseph adds.
Communicate your energy concerns and achievements to patrons as well. As awareness of environmental issues increases, so do public expectations of the businesses they patronize. Posting information about your energy-efficiency initiatives increases guest satisfaction and loyalty by showing that you care about climate change and are committed to sustainable practices.
Finally, don’t overlook the benefits of reaching out to LEAF. LEAF’s goal is to help food-service operators make the best choices to reduce their environmental impact. To that end, they offer resources and help business owners identify rebates and incentives. Their certification program sees accredited consultants review 10 key areas with an eye towards lowering costs and emissions and increasing industry recognition and customer appeal. LEAF offers three levels of certification to restaurants demonstrating environmental and sustainable practices.
“LEAF certification encompasses a wide range of issues, from energy to waste to menu items, to ensure a restaurant is sustainable in the long term, both environmentally and financially,” Haque explains.
“You don’t have to do it all,” Joseph cautions. “Any restaurant can easily find four or five ways to make positive changes that fit their business model and brand. And don’t be dissuaded by the perception it has to be costly to make these changes: in the past it was hard to find places where environmental and financial wins lined up, but it’s far easier today.”
Joseph likes to point to the success of A&W in carving a niche for itself as a model of sustainable best practices in Canada’s food-service landscape. Rather than casting its sustainable net too broadly, the company elected to focus on a few initiatives – notably paper straws and organically raised beef. The result was an enviable reputation as a company that cares about the environment, and impressive brand loyalty.
“Energy-efficient best practices are about addressing where the world is heading,” Haque concludes, “and, at the same time, benefitting the bottom line.”
Through the Climate Action Incentive Fund, businesses in Ontario, New Brunswick, Manitoba, Saskatchewan are eligible to apply and can receive funding of up to 25 per cent of the cost of projects intended to reduce energy use, save money, and cut greenhouse gas pollution. For more information, visit https://www.canada.ca.
LEAF audit grants
LEAF audit grants are now available to help independent restaurant operators start or continue their journey to more sustainable operations. This opportunity will make LEAF certification possible for those that face financial or other barriers. Learn more: https://www.leafme.org/grants
Climate Action Incentive Fund
Businesses in Ontario, New Brunswick, Manitoba, Saskatchewan are eligible to apply and can receive funding of up to 25 per cent of the cost of projects intended to reduce energy use, save money, and cut greenhouse gas pollution. Learn more: https://www.canada.ca/ (search “Climate Action Incentive Fund”)
Andrew Hind is a freelance writer from Bradford, Ont., specializing in food, history and travel. He is the author of 25 books and the proud father of one.