Are we washed in so much green, we can’t see the forest through the trees? It sometimes feels like we are looking at the world through green colored glasses.

As I focus my green glasses on the food market, I see that the word sustainability covers a host of topics. For instance, the words natural and organic can have different meanings to different people. For some, chemicals are “natural,” as they are created on earth. To others, “organic” brings security, knowing products purchased from truly sustainable, chemical-free farms will not contain hormones and other additives found in many popular brands.

Looking beyond food and food additives, foodservice equipment brings other complications. It’s so easy for a manufacturer to say an item is energy efficient, or claim that it uses less energy than other similar pieces of equipment. It is equally easy for foodservice consultants and operators to fall in the trap of purchasing or specifying equipment that may not be energy efficient, or at least is not as efficient as it could be. But as a foodservice professional it is up to you to know the difference between those pieces of equipment that promise energy efficiency and those that actually deliver on that promise.

So where can foodservice professionals like you turn for reliable advice and information? The EPA definitely wants you to stop by its Energy Star site to do some homework, but there are other solid resources that you should consider, including the US Green Building Council and Food Service Technology Center, both of which have current information on proven energy efficient equipment and energy management practices.
But beyond this, you should ask an important question: Is my organization really investing in saving energy or are we just talking the talk and not walking the walk?

By asking this question, you are already starting down the right road. Many foodservice operators I visit admit they don’t have a good handle on their facilities’ energy consumption and that they only trust an equipment sales person or consultant to guide them down the specification path toward a more sustainable operation.

For instance, I recently visited a large health care chain that was replacing a 20 year old flight type dishwasher with a new one. The purchasing agent and foodservice director thought replacing like for like was a good idea, since the old machine seemed to work well. However, because they did not look at other more energy-efficient alternatives, that decision cost the organization approximately $15,000 per year in energy use.

As you develop a plan for equipment replacement involving previously researched specifications, make sure that you take into account the energy use and throughput.

When working with consultants or equipment salespeople ask if they understand energy analysis and if they offer this as a service. Ask for examples of work they performed.

Become aware of energy gobblers and look at your operations energy pie, which should factor in your costs for food preparation, HVAC, lighting, refrigeration and sanitation.

It’s great to say we are green, and especially great to enjoy the financial benefits of energy efficient business practices. But keep working to expand the sustainable culture in your business, make it permeate every fiber of your organization; from the food you order and eat, equipment you specify, materials you choose and even the life style you promote. Increasing awareness is the first opportunity, and that seems obvious; however it takes “energy” to save energy.