Sustainability Efforts at Retail | How Can We Make an Impact?

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Interview With Richard Young, Food Service Technology Center

Chronicle: Your work focuses on promoting energy efficiency practices in the food service sector. What are some of the ways you explain why it is important to care about these efforts? 

Richard: Commercial food service operations, from cafes to cafeterias, are very energy-intensive. Most operators have no idea what any individual piece of equipment is costing—but they do see the monthly bill, and most operators would like that bill to be lower. However, there’s a disconnect, because most food service operators don’t realize that they can reduce their bills—they view the bill as an inflexible cost that comes from some “Big Brother” utility. The truth is that many operators can cut their utility costs by 10 percent or more with a little investment and some better operations. The trick is to view energy and water as commodities, the same as coffee beans or napkins, and to stop wasting those commodities. Think about it: a cafe is buying energy and water and combining that with coffee beans, sugar, and milk to create the product that they sell. They are buying and selling energy! As soon as you look at it that way, you understand that wasted energy and water equal lost profit.

Chronicle: Do you have any wisdom for cafe owners on how to communicate these efforts and their value to their customers?

Richard: Some simple, straightforward, and attractive signage is probably the easiest way to communicate your sustainable efforts to your customers. I was just in a cafe restroom that had a really nice painting on the wall that showed a single drop of water and one word, “Conserve.” After I saw the sign, I looked around and noticed that they had low-flow aerators on the sink and a low-flow toilet. It was an elegant way to share the message. Conversely, the quickest way to show that you are not sustainable is to fill your cafe with old-school light bulbs. Nothing says “energy waste” like a bare 60-watt bulb. There are too many good, cost-effective LED lamps out there to hang on to yesterday’s energy hogs.  

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Chronicle: What is the SCAA Green Guide series and what are the major benefits to utilizing a tool like this for cafe owners and operators?

Richard: One of the biggest impediments to sustainable operation is lack of knowledge. Cafe folks don’t have time to go hunt down all the ingredients for a green cafe—they are already too busy just keeping the shop open—and half the stuff you find on the Internet is questionable anyway. The Green Guides are an effort to bring the basics of sustainability directly to cafe operators in a simple and honest format. The Guides are written by experts in their respective fields and vetted by a team of folks to make sure they are accurate and as useful as possible. The fact that the Green Guide subscription comes with a membership to the SCAA Sustainability Tracking and Reporting Tool (START) is also a huge bonus. Tracking your sustainable efforts is the first step in going green, and the START program makes that possible. With the Green Guide in one hand and START in the other, you can learn, make progress and achieve your sustainable goals.

Chronicle: Where do you see our progress as an industry? Are we making an impact?

Richard: When it comes to energy and water efficiency, the food service industry has made some decent progress, mostly at the chain level—but we still have miles to go. Over the last couple of decades we have built the foundation for truly sustainable operations, but in general we are just now making it to the starting line. The good news is that saving energy and water is getting easier and easier. Energy-efficient appliances and water-saving fixtures are easy to find if you know where to look. The Green Guides are our way to say to cafe operators, “this is possible, it’s all here—let’s start the journey and take it a step at a time.” All the raw resources for food service come from the environment, and the message is pretty clear: it’s time to get green so we can keep on enjoying the food and drink that we love!

To learn more about the SCAA Green Guide series or the Sustainability Tracking and Reporting Tool, please visit scaa.org/sustainability.

Richard Young is the senior engineer and director of education at the Food Service Technology Center (FSTC), a publicly funded research facility that studies and promotes energy and water efficiency in commercial food service. Richard currently focuses most of his efforts on technical outreach—translating the FSTC’s 26 years of research into practical information. He has 20 years of experience creating and presenting seminars on energy efficiency and currently delivers about 75 sessions a year. He has authored numerous research reports as well as articles in magazines, newsletters, and on the web and is the primary author of the food service sustainability blog: Sustainability Beyond the Plate. Richard is a coauthor of SCAA’s Green Guides and a true coffee lover. He lives for a shot of straight-up espresso “for here” from one of the many great cafes in his Oakland neighborhood.

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