Years after the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) unveiled LEED for Retail, few foodservice operators seem to be pursuing the certification unless they are part of larger projects at colleges/universities and healthcare facilities, for example, or publicly funded projects like general assemblies. Likely it’s the extra funding — or perhaps the paperwork and skill set required — that create barriers to entry, but there’s still good news to this story.

MU Armstrong 009Green dining efforts at Miami University’s Armstrong Student Center in Oxford, Ohio, include compostable packaging at all six dining concepts and a new food waste pulper and dehydrator press that handles compost and leftover food. Photography by Ryan KurtzMany foodservice operators have opted to follow a number of green kitchen and building guidelines outlined by LEED, even if they don’t pay for or pursue the official certification. LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a certification program developed by the U.S. Green Building Council.

“It seems the relevance of LEED now was more of an overall paradigm shift than a high number of LEED-certified projects,” says Tarah Schroeder, LEED AP, principal at Ricca Design Studios, who has completed both LEED-certified and LEED-style projects. “While some projects are required to go for LEED certification because of funding sources, others who may have had a choice have decided to use LEED more as a guideline. ... With the older certification, there’s not as much that pertains to foodservice equipment, so most foodservice strategies have had go beyond LEED anyway,” she says.

When working on LEED-style projects, Schroeder uses her trusty spreadsheet, which is modeled after LEED guidelines, and then incorporates additional sustainability markers to work toward. The main difference? When the project is complete, no paperwork gets submitted for USGBC certification.

Schroeder’s checklist includes markers in different categories: sustainable sites (e.g., construction activity pollution prevention, storm water design); water efficiency (e.g., 20 percent water-use reduction, efficient landscaping); energy and atmosphere (e.g., refrigeration management, green power); materials and resources (e.g., storage and collection of recyclables, use of renewable materials); indoor environmental quality (e.g., increased ventilation, low-emitting materials); and innovation in design process.

Schroeder’s spreadsheet does not specifically address kitchen equipment, however, so she will also go by LEED’s prescriptive path as well as her own professional knowledge and Energy Star guidelines.

The Prescriptive Compliance Path, developed in part by engineers at the PG&E Food Service Technology Center in San Ramon, Calif., outlines a list of baseline energy markers for different pieces of commercial kitchen equipment and then offers the energy-saving LEED standard to meet. Builders and consultants can go through this as a checklist — achieving energy savings with all of the different equipment will satisfy the requirements for earning the LEED credits toward energy management goals, without teams having to go through the tedious process of developing an energy model for the entire kitchen.

Prioritizing LEED

So how do you decide which LEED guidelines to follow, if you don’t plan to follow all of them?

“You have to determine what sustainability means for you,” recommends Schroeder. “Sometimes [operators] can be more focused on energy savings, or on water reduction, while others might be more focused on waste management.”

To determine those true priorities, talk to all the right stakeholders in a new build or major remodel project. At a college campus, that might mean the administrators, but also the students. “If the students have a certain perspective and want their college to focus more on food waste, then that might take higher priority,” Schroeder says. “Among other clients, it’s more about local and sustainable food sourcing.”

Budget also eventually finds its way into these discussions. “This is one of the concerns I have with not using LEED guidelines,” Schroeder says. “It can be tempting to choose options that will lower the budget, but even if you’re saving money in the short term, you might end up making decisions that will make the building less sustainable in the long run.”

Submitting LEED paperwork forces the operator/builder to follow those guidelines outlined for sustainable design, lessening the chances of value engineering. In a LEED-style project, the operator has to make sure all players get on board and agree to make sure the project follows those guidelines — not only during construction but also once it opens for business.

Researching the Guidelines

Berklee College of Music Mixed Use Building 02Berklee College of Music’s mixed-use building in Boston received LEED Silver certification. Photography by Dave GreenThe USGBC publishes quite a bit of LEED information online; however, for more guideline specifics, operators might need to purchase the organization’s official guides.

Schroeder does recommend following LEED’s prescriptive path for foodservice equipment. “There are not that many steps on the checklist, and this is one of the least difficult paths to follow,” she says.

For non-LEED goals, Schroeder helps clients put together a separate checklist, on which they can mark yes, no or maybe next to certain achievements (like waste management, local food sourcing, etc.) to get an overall picture of their sustainability goals.

Energy-Saving Design

Energy-saving design represents another sustainability goal that falls outside of LEED guidelines. For example, Schroeder worked on a recent project with a K-12 school that didn’t want to achieve LEED certification but did prioritize energy savings.

Schroeder started with LEED’s prescriptive path but then went beyond that to look at demand-controlled ventilation and cookline layout. Something as simple as placing heavier-duty equipment like charboilers in the middle of a hood instead of on the ends can save countless dollars on energy use, and this is not covered by LEED.

Induction equipment and technology, a fast-growing alternative to gas equipment for enhanced energy savings, is also not addressed by the current LEED guidelines.

LEED has become less of the end-all for sustainable design and more of a stepping-stone to even greater achievements.