Working With Who & What You’ve Got – planning for an energy efficient kitchen

19 Mar Working With Who & What You’ve Got – planning for an energy efficient kitchen

By Melanie Smythe              

Melanie Smythe is an architect and President of Candacity LLC with over 30 years of experience managing commercial projects

People are motivated by a myriad of different things.  Basic needs must be met before higher aspirational work and thought come into play.  Upon reaching that higher level, it can be amazing what problems can be tackled.

What does that have to do with your team?  First, are their basic needs for work satisfaction being met?  If everyone is trained and contentedly completing their part, then loftier goals can be laid out for attainment.  If not, it is important to address the weakness so as not to set people up for failure.

Let’s assume that we are a well functioning team and are ready to add into the mix goals and actions to improve the food service operations by saving energy and thereby dollars which can be repurposed in some fashion.

Where to begin?

We will be looking at the invisible systems, which are right under our noses – water, gas, electric and refrigeration systems.  Now this might sound like a facilities thing, but truth be told facilities is rarely in the space except to review a problem or fix something, and they certainly do not live in it and use the space.  Most food service spaces and systems in schools are overlooked and thought of as an after thought, sad to say.

Why would we look at these systems?

Research and update the following:

From the National Restaurant Association’s research arm:

  • _Restaurants use five times more energy per square foot than other commercial buildings and five times more energy in the kitchen than in the rest of the building.
  • _Energy costs represent 30 percent of a typical building’s annual budget.
  • _Energy costs have been increasing at a rate of 6 percent to 8 percent per year.

Energy usage is not the biggest number on the P & L statement in food service; however, it is one of the expenses that we can do something about.

According to the Consortium for Energy Efficiency here is typical kitchen energy

consumption by area:

Cooking 30%

Space heating 22%

Refrigeration 19%

Other 10%

Water heating 9%

Cooling 6%

Lighting 4%.

From these numbers cooking, refrigeration and water heating are directly related to the efforts to prepare meals and comprise roughly 60% of energy usage. The categories of heating and cooling will vary depending on climate and location in the country. On average, this adds up to just under 30%, with other and lighting making up the rest.

All this is great information and sounds like a lot of work, before we start to make a plan, let’s start with YOU!

Why are you even contemplating this?

Are there failed efforts from the past and it is a known area of concern?  Do  you need to find money to prop up the bottom-line?  Are people calling for a more environmentally friendly workplace?

Be clear on your own motivation for the program.  An engaged leader with a clear vision is infectious.  Do not feel like this is yours to do by yourself.  This work is really about people’s behavior change and therefore many stakeholders have to be on board.  Also, don’t feel overwhelmed by the work that needs to be done.  If you can find an hour a month for two to three months you can get a program started.

As Mark Twain said, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and starting on the first one.”

Start by identifying a handful of key people in your organization/community .  A core team of helpers to start will help divide the work, so that it is not just you.

People will do things out of their comfort zone if they have a clear vision of the benefit.  What is deemed is a benefit will change from person to person.  How does one motivate food service staff, students, school adults and the larger community to appreciate the goal and contribute to it?   Ask them what is important and what they would like to do and why.  From their answers age and people appropriate messages can be put together to  get things going.  The simpler the message the better.
Motivations = Saving $, Profits, a Great story and being a part of it, being recognized, Contributions as bettering the world.

Whatever the motivation:  get this core team of people on board.  It helps to find a champion or accomplice for sanity.  Don’t key in on specific areas to target just yet, you will want the team to define what a “Sustainability Program” is and what it looks like.  Talk in general terms, let people know that they will be pioneers.  This will either scare people or excite them.  Encourage the scaredy cats and challenge the gung ho ones to go out and figure out what they want to focus on.   An early task is to review information about the current reality of the food service situation and energy usage and to have the early team have input on the overarching goals.  These pioneers can be food service staff, a teacher or a student/group, your boss, or even a parent.

Let’s say that after your first meeting, the core team decided that water usage seemed like an easy place to start.  This goes to the point of finding that first easy win.  With an early win, the pioneers will be encouraged and talk more people into the efforts.   Winners are cool.

Now that you know what areas interest people, the program definition of sustainability and what their motivation is, you can have a group meeting for all people to further define the goal.  This might not include students, unless in higher grades, but might be managed as a class discussion with the teacher’s permission.  Kids love science, this can be a science project subject.  Does the school district have a STEM program?  Golden.

So let’s focus on one subject for now.  Let’s say that a couple of the staff and your boss realize that there is a problem with water usage and refrigeration.  Through your research you have noticed that the water bill is extremely high and that the ladies complain that it never gets cool enough.

Water Bill High

If the school district/building is older this could be leaking pipes, or simply unconscious over running of faucets during operations.  Or something else?

Too Hot in the Kitchen

Again, if this is an older facility, perhaps the heating/ventilation/air conditioning (HVAC)  system is not keeping up due to age, or perhaps new equipment has been added without updating the exhaust or HVAC system.  Or something else?

For both of these situations, a discussion with facilities is a great idea.  Ask if there are any planned upgrades. Ask if they are willing to separately meter each piece of equipment to identify usage.  What this would entail is hiring a service to come in and place meters on key pieces of equipment and track the use of water, or power or gas.  There are many companies that do this and it can be done simply without affecting operations.

Figure out a way to track the information and identify the problem areas.  Kids love science, this can be a science project subject.  Does the school district have a STEM program?  Golden.

What if the problem at the three-compartment sink is not that there is a leak but that when staff comes in in the morning, they just start the faucets running and don’t monitor their own actions.

If facilities is not willing to spend money or there is no money to do this metering, there is another way….people can self-regulate and they can change their behavior and if this is done over several months, changes can be seen in water bills etc.

What do we mean?

Well, what if all the excess billings are due to behavioral practices within food service?  What do we mean?  Well, take a look at this checklist.  Are you doing this?

This goes to the point of putting something into action.  It may not exactly be what you think the end result should be but it is a start and a way to build momentum.  Who cares if it is their idea, if they love it, they will create excitement about it and it will grow within your community of people.

Now here is the fun part and not everyone gets to it.


It’s great that the team is excited and telling people about what is going on, but you want to guide the official story.  As you work with the team stat collector and people to tell the story of what is going on, establish that this is a program and represents the school community and that messages must be agreed to by all and positive, even if there are unexpected results.

Let’s go back to the water problem.  Take pictures of the sinks and faucets, take pictures of the service guys installing the meters, write down what the various reactions are at the time.  Show people how the information is being tracked.  Show before and after results.  Put people in charge of these tasks.  Set up a monthly review – this can be an email with a couple of stats and a photo attachment.

If this was done for 4 months in a row it would paint the picture of action and provide results.   Review the results.  Ask people for why after the checklist was instituted did the water usage go down, show if it did or didn’t.

You now have a baseline of information about water and bills and people’s behavior.

Something to take to the next level.

Melanie Smythe, President, Candacity LLC

Melanie is a seasoned program manager who has worked in the commercial arena for over 30 years. She has expertise in: program and brand development, real estate, architecture, construction project management, construction supply chain management, manufacturing systems, and new build/renovation/remodeling projects. Melanie has worked extensively with institutions, corporations, restaurant franchisees, oil marketers, retailers, school district food service directors, and food/beverage producers, helping them find profitable building solutions for their businesses.

In response to requests for tailored program design and construction services, from a major food service management company, she formed Candacity, LLC in 2009. As president, Melanie is the Client Advocate for all projects. Candacity’s approach centers on developing right-fit programs, through Quality principles, for clients’ facilities portfolios that achieve budgetary, scope, and time frame goals; and create sustainable business and operations models that are positioned for customers’ well-being, ease of use and an exceptional experience. People first, is key.

“Profits from your Spaces and Places; improvements for a better life!”

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