Fuel for thought: how to reduce your energy consumption

24 March 2017 by
Fuel for thought: how to reduce your energy consumption

The UK's greenest restaurants will switch off their lights for WWF's Earth Hour on 25 March, demonstrating their commitment to reducing energy consumption. Elly Earls explains how others can follow their example all year round

At 8.30pm on Saturday 25 March, individuals and businesses around the world will switch off their lights for 60 minutes to shine a light on the need for action on climate change. Many restaurants will be serving candlelit dinners for their customers to raise awareness of just how much energy the foodservice sector consumes every year and what it's doing to bring that figure down.

But, by following the examples of businesses like Pizza Hut and Wahaca, a 20% reduction in energy consumption across the industry is eminently achievable, which could translate into the same bottom-line benefit as a 5% increase in sales and savings of up to £250m.

According to the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA), there are a whole host of ways to get started:

1 Get staff switched on

However large or small your business, staff are the best energy saving device there is. As Raefe Watkin-Rees, property director at Pizza Hut, says: "We need our employees to play their part: firstly, we had make them aware of the need to conserve energy, both for the good of the planet and to make us more profitable; and then get them to buy into it and become actively engaged."

"In terms of education, that's meant making it clear that leaving the external lights on in the middle of the day makes no sense. We've also trained our kitchen teams about the significant amount of energy they can waste when leaving the walk-in fridges open. We teach them that apparently little things like that can have a dramatic impact on consumption."

In conjunction with a £1.5m capital investment across 200 sites since 2012, the behaviour changes have been instrumental in an impressive 15% reduction in energy consumption.

Keeping staff engaged is similarly important at contract caterer Vacherin. "As we don't manage the physical space of our sites, most of what we can do is limited to influencing behaviours," explains sustainability and CSR lead Zoe Stennett-Cox.

"As part of their induction, all our 370 staff undertake a sustainability training programme, which I devised and now deliver. I feel this is where we can make a difference, by empowering our teams to make smart choices, as well as a positive difference to the environment. My experience has been that the earlier we can communicate the message, the more effective it will be and the more enthusiastic staff are in embracing the behaviour."

2 Be a bright spark and switch to LED

Lighting can account for up to 10% of a restaurant's total energy use, and switching to LEDs from standard bulbs can help reduce energy use by as much as 75%. And according to Steve Kaddish, development manager at Carluccio's, there's a helpful fringe benefit: "Switching to LED lights helped make a huge difference -not just in terms of cost and reducing our energy use, but also in that our managers don't have to be endlessly climbing ladders to change lightbulbs."

3 Look to the future - think induction

Induction hobs are significantly more efficient than conventional hobs, heat up instantly and are cleaner and make for a cooler kitchen, requiring less fan time. When the Oxo Tower Restaurant, Bar & Brasserie decided to install a new kitchen in 2015, it was a no-brainer.

"Induction hobs were found to be part of the solution, as induction cooking achieves up to 70% savings on running costs compared to conventional equipment, with boiling times 25% faster than gas," says Nick Jarman, general manager at the Oxo Tower. "Before the refurbishment, the temperature of the kitchen used to surpass 40°C, so extractors were used constantly. The introduction of induction hobs has reduced the emitted heat greatly."

4 Don't waste heat, turn it into hot water

Even a small restaurant kitchen with a beer cellar, chiller and freezer room could generate approximately 18kW of unwanted heat every hour - the equivalent of the power of more than six domestic kettles. But for an investment of around £8,000-£10,000, technology can be installed to capture the heat from fridges, freezers and extractors and use it to make instant hot water for the entire restaurant. According to Kaddish, the investment pays back in two years. "Now we never run out of hot water, have cool chefs and are using much less energy," he says. For those for whom this capital investment is daunting, there are grants available from organisations such as the Carbon Trust.

5 Be smart - measure and monitor

Monitoring and measuring how much energy your business is using is the best place to start looking at how to set meaningful reduction targets.

"For us, that means our financial team sitting down with an energy expert, poring over the half-hourly readings, and looking for spikes," says Wahaca founder Mark Selby. "We then work with the general managers and teams in each individual restaurant to improve. In our older restaurants, this has meant we are now using about 15% less energy than we were before - but in our new restaurants (those opened in the last four years) that number rises to about 36%."

6 Ask the experts

Getting the best deal on energy can be time-consuming and a real challenge. As Kaddish has discovered, this is where a good energy consultant comes into play.

The team at Carluccio's has been working with an energy consultant for about 10 years. The consultant deals with all gas and electrics, including the sourcing of renewable power, upgrades to existing services and the co-ordination of smart readers that have been fitted throughout the estate.

"Over the years, he has contributed to many savings on our energy spend and has always been someone to turn to when we receive 'cold call' emails, offering all manner of savings. He has been able to measure savings by restaurant when we switched to LED and passive infra-red lighting," Kaddish says.

7 Go green

There's a long-held suspicion that green energy is more expensive, but there are two ways of countering any potential higher costs - shopping around and reducing consumption so you can afford a marginally higher tariff.

As Selby says: "Our energy costs now account for about 4% of our turnover and we continue to look at ways we can reduce that. Reducing the amount of energy we use has made it possible for us to be able to use 100% green energy."

8 Come in from the cold

Refrigeration and cooling accounts for about 15% of a restaurant's total energy use and there are number of simple, cheap ways of keeping your fridges running efficiently. Just moving them into the coolest part of the kitchen will improve their efficiency, as well as bringing down the overall temperature in the kitchen.

Fridges can also be fitted with equipment that ensures the compressor only kicks in when the doors are opened for long enough to change the temperature, as Carluccio's has done.

9 Think beyond the initial price tag

Investing in new equipment can be daunting, but it's important to look at the bigger picture. When the Oxo Tower started tendering for new kitchen equipment, the team looked closely at ROI in terms of energy reduction so they had a clear understanding of the payback on their investment.

"A good example is our new dishwasher (for glass, cutlery and china), which uses outgoing rinse water at 82°C to heat up the incoming cold water to up to 55°C," Jarman says. "This not only reduces energy use, but also helps reduce the use of detergent by up to 20%. By incorporating this system, we were able to be more energy efficient and reduce our operating costs."

10 Turn on your customers too

Don't forget to let your customers know about your schemes through taking part in initiatives such as the WWF Earth Hour on 25 March. As Jarman says: "We support Earth Hour by switching off our lights annually to stand in solidarity with businesses and people across the world. Oxo has participated in Earth Hour since 2013 and our candlelight dinners have helped to raise awareness of this important issue. We're proud to be part of the initiative."

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