Turning Sustainability Initiatives into LEED

LEED, University of California, San DiegoSAN DIEGO—It’s the “green” thing to do, and it ultimately can also save you some green. More and more foodservice operators are turning to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and its LEED certification to channel their sustainability initiatives into a tangible goal. The LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) green building certification system rates the design, construction and operation of green buildings. There are 35,000 projects currently participating in the LEED system, comprising more than 4.5 billion square feet of construction space in all 50 states and 91 countries. LEED is a point-based system and the number of points a builder receives relates to the level of certification: 40-49 points for “Certified” status, 50-59 for “Silver” status, 60-79 for “Gold” and 80 to the maximum 110 for “Platinum”
status. According to Nick Schaffer, manager of the commercial-real-estate sector for USGBC, operators looking into LEED certification typically want to know two things:
• How much will it cost me and what’s the ROI?
• How difficult is it going to be?

The first question is the most complex. Of course, there’s a cost for the actual certification, with project registration at $900 to $1,200, and certification for an operation starting at $2,250, with additional costs depending on square footage, USGBC membership and an expedited process. As for the actual equipment, the key is running the numbers and payback.

“Most clients wouldn’t even touch [LEED certification] if they’re not getting beneath a two- to three-year payback on the incremental cost differences between technologies,” said Wayne Howell, principal for Princeton, N.J.-based Clive Samuels & Associates Inc., part of Emerson’s Retail Solutions group. The company provides refrigeration, electrical, lighting, HVAC and other design services. Further, said Howell, operators should consider how often they renovate a location. If the ROI isn’t within the time frame before a remodel, then it “really makes no economic sense,” he said.

LEED, University of California, San DiegoOperators should also research any state and local rebates and other incentives to help offset costs. Such enticements can vary greatly, according to Schaffer. In Nevada, for example, green buildings can earn a 25% to 35% reduction in property taxes. In Chicago, there is an expedited permitting process for builders going for LEED certification. Operators can even get green incentives from their utility companies.

Lezah Preston, national accounts manager for Largo, Fla.-based ElectraLED Inc., said, “Because we are such an energy-starved country, they’ve even got electric companies that are willing to finance the switch to LED.” For example, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. in California provides a $65 to $100 rebate per door for some of ElectraLED’s refrigerated case lighting products. Schaffer of USGBC said that coming to the table with a bit of knowledge can help pare down costs with suppliers of green products. “If you are somewhat experienced, where you at least understand what you’re going for and you talk with your vendors, it really shouldn’t cost you anything more,” he said. “Green products these days are price-wise very comparable, and many times even cheaper than a non-green counterpart because a lot of that is recycled content.”

LEED, University of California, San DiegoA LEED-ing example: Not surprisingly, sustainability has a strong foothold in the Housing, Dining, Hospitality (HDH) department of the University of California, San Diego. HDH created the Major Planet Program, which supports the University’s environmental stewardship tenants by integrating green practices into all dining and housing operations. Initiatives in the dining department
include:
• Free 32-ounce, reusable beverage bottles for all residents, which also gets them a discount when used in the dining halls;
• Biodegradable to-go cups and utensils and the elimination of plastic utensils for reusable flatware;
• Contract with New Leaf Bio for the pick-up of used cooking oil, to be refined into bio fuel;
• Collaboration with the campus purchasing department to reduce the number of vendors used and/or buy from local vendors whenever possible, lessening energy consumption and emissions;
• Using drought-tolerant landscaping solutions;
• Transitioning in eco-friendly Forbo Linoleum and researching use of eco-friendly bamboo flooring for hard-surface areas;
• Used furniture is handed down to nonprofit organizations and not placed in landfills.

HDH helped to further reduce to-go container waste with the creation of Toby’s Spot. Students can take their meals to go on permanent dishware from dining facilities and leave the dirty dishes in carts located in each residence hall and apartment building for pick up by HDH staffers.

Meanwhile, the Alliance to Save Energy’s Green Campus Program, a student-led initiative at UC San Diego, is working with HDH to conduct energy and water assessments of residential dining halls.

“Interns conduct walk-throughs of the dining halls, taking notes of what types of lighting and appliances are in use, as well as the general practices of the employees and building occupants,” said Krista Mays, HDH sustainability manager. “[They] then compile the data, calculate the buildings’ energy use and identify areas of potential energy or water savings through appliance upgrades or behavioral changes.”

From there, a comprehensive report is presented to the building managers, and about six months after the initial assessment, a follow-up walk-through and report are completed to see if any of the suggested changes were made.

Beyond these incremental changes, HDH is also working toward LEED certification. Apartments for four residential communities are currently being constructed, all of which will be a minimum of LEED Silver, and most are on track to apply for Gold or Platinum certification, said Mays. Two HDH restaurants are also being remodeled and are required to meet at least Silver LEED certification. HDH’s newest location, Goody’s Place & Market, is currently being reviewed for LEED certification. Initiatives at Goody’s, which sells Chipotle-style burritos and burrito bowls, as well as sandwiches, salads and coffee, include the following:
• When the site was remodeled, 50% of the construction waste was recycled;
• Low-flow plumbing fixtures and high-efficiency irrigation equipment were installed, saving an estimated 65,000 gallons of water a year compared to older fixtures;
• The purchase of Renewable Energy Certificates will offset conventional electricity generation while promoting the production of renewable energy;
• Low-emitting paints, sealants and adhesives were used throughout the building; and,
• Using concrete with a high reflectance value and limiting the amount of exposed asphalt areas helps to reduce the heat buildup that contributes to increased peak energy demand, air-conditioning costs and air pollution levels.

HDH continues to tap into its engaged customer base: environmentally minded college kids. In September 2009, HDH hired seven student “EcoNauts” to work for the sustainability program. “These students are taking on these kinds of initiatives in HDH areas and have been working with the Green Campus students,” said Mays.

Initiatives include implementing energy-efficiency policy and action, and supporting green workforce development through training, mentoring and even curricula.

A version of this article appeared in the June/July 2010 issue of FSD’s sister publication, Fare Magazine.

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