One Company's Take on LEED

While incorporating environmentally friendly practices into a restaurant comes with a price, these efforts can help generate a positive return on investment.

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Achieving LEED status is one of the easiest ways a foodservice operator can qualify its environmentally friendly efforts to its customer base. More importantly, though, following the LEED principles can help that restaurant lower its operating costs. So it was with great interest that I, along with packed house at FCSI's pre-NAFEM Show conference, listened to Todd Taylor, director of design for Darden Restaurants, outline some of his company's approach to achieving LEED status and the benefits doing so can generate.

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When Darden's current fiscal year concludes in June, the multi-concept chain operator will have 11 LEED certified restaurants in operation, Taylor said. Of course, when Darden first began pursuing LEED certification the path for restaurants to follow was not very well-defined. "We have had to create at it, making it up on our own as we go along," he said.

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Some of the upfront benefits Darden experiences by pursuing LEED certification include tax breaks and an expedited permitting process. While these factors are helpful, they do not represent Darden's primary motivating factors for pursuing LEED. "We are doing this because it is the right thing to do," Taylor said.

While pursuing LEED is top of mind for Darden with any new restaurant it builds, the fact remains that not every location will be able to achieve this status due to circumstances beyond their control. For example, if a restaurant is part of a strip mall or other larger commercial facility it might have a difficult time achieving LEED status due to the way the facility is constructed and other issues. Still, this does not alter the way Darden approaches building its restaurants. "Everything we build meets that criteria even if it is not going to be LEED certified," Taylor said. "For us, it is practicing what you preach. We believe that LEED is a guideline that helps you down a pathway."

And traveling that pathway helps operators like Darden incorporate a variety of elements in its new restaurants, including: increased natural lighting, drip irrigation, energy efficient lighting, and local materials sourcing.

From a foodservice equipment perspective, Darden looks to take a variety of steps to help earn LEED points, including: replacing steamers with microwave ovens or convection ovens, use of high-efficiency burners and incorporating water efficient dishwashers. In addition, Darden is developing power up and power down schedules for its restaurants to help minimize peak utility usage charges and using reclaimed heat from remote ice machine compressors.

Naturally, all of this comes with a price. Taylor estimated that each of Darden's LEED certified ranges from $150,000 to $440,000 more than one of their typical restaurants not pursuing this status. But the restaurant realizes significant savings in the form of 14 percent reduction in electricity and gas costs and a 38 percent reduction in potable water costs, on average. Also, the tax incentives Darden realizes range from $5,000 to $100,000 per restaurant depending on its location, Taylor said. And the expedited permitting can help get an operation running faster, which means revenue starts flowing sooner.

Certainly, pursuing LEED certification is not right for every foodservice operation for a variety of reasons. But incorporating the some of LEED's environmentally friendly practices that do not compromise operational efficiency is something that all operators should pursue and, in doing so, they should work closely with their supply chain partners.

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