Four ways to make a facility more sustainable

Foodservice operators shared some tips during the National Restaurant Association show.

Published in FSD Update

By 
Katie Fanuko, Associate Editor

nra show floor

While food trends, legislative issues and millennials remained hot topics at the 2015 National Restaurant Association show, sustainability grabbed a share of the spotlight, too. A telling piece of evidence: five of the show’s education sessions were dedicated to the topic.

Many operators strive to be more sustainable, but figuring out where to start can be a daunting task. Speakers shared their experiences in creating sustainable facilities, highlighting initiatives that can serve as starting points.

1. Replace plastic utensils with silverware

One way to start creating a more sustainable facility (and save money, too) is to change from plastic utensils to silverware. Justin Vrany, owner of the Chicago-based restaurant Sandwich Me In, says that switching to silverware not only reduced waste but allowed him to pocket $1,400 in plastic ware costs. “The savings is amazing,” he says. “These are minimal things, but the savings adds up quickly.”

Swapping out plastic for metal utensils also prevents unnecessary headaches if plastics are inadvertently thrown in with a facility’s compostable food scraps, since a compost facility will turn away bins with plastic utensils in them, says Chris Koetke, vice president of the School of Culinary Arts at Kendall College in Chicago.

2. Find water inefficiencies in equipment

Conserving could very well become the next big conversation in sustainability given the scarcity in many areas, said Emilio Tenuta, vice president of Corporate Sustainability at Ecolab. “States are starting to formulate plans because they are seeing water impacting the economy,” he says. “It’s a topic that is going to continue to increase in the food and restaurant industry and it’s something that needs to be managed.”

In order to conserve water in their facility, an operator should consider doing an equipment audit, said Richard Young, senior engineer and director of education at the PG&E Food Service Technology Center, a facility that tests equipment and performs other functions to help foodservice operators conserve precious resources. He suggests seeking out water leaks in equipment, such as a dishwasher that drains when it’s not in its rinse cycle. An audit can also determine if certain equipment can be removed, like dipper wells that aren’t utilized on a regular basis.

3. Use technology to track food waste 

A sustainability plan is only as good as its implementation and it can be a challenge to get buy-in from staff members. To pinpoint inefficiencies, Eric Kinniburgh, director of culinary for Boloco, a fast-casual concept headquartered in Boston, Mass., decided to use software that tracks food losses. He discovered certain menu items, such as quinoa, weren’t as popular among customers and reduced the quantity prepared. He also uses reports, which can be segmented to each team member, to explain to his staff their direct impact on overall sustainability initiatives. “We can sit down and give feedback and [provide] a very visual understanding of what is going on,” he says.

4. Consider the small details when composting

Composting is a straightforward method of reducing food scraps, but it’s always best to consult with a compost hauler to make sure it’s done correctly, according to Koetke. While starting up Kendall College’s composting program, he quickly learned not to overlook small details, like collecting food scraps in plastic liners. When the compost hauler arrived to take the school’s food scraps to a facility, he explained to Koetke that he couldn’t accept the compost in plastic bags because it’s not biodegradable.

However, Koetke says that implementing sustainability practices are well worth the setbacks. “We have learned many lessons, sometimes relatively painful lessons. Learn them. The point is, you don’t give up; you keep pushing ahead.”

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