Parting Shot: Answering the Call

Foodservice operators and the industry face growing energy challenges that threaten sales, profitability and basic operation. Across the country, higher energy prices have hit operators hard, raising concern among them.

While many businesses will feel the crunch, escalating energy costs are particularly troublesome for foodservice operators. They get hit from both sides: reduced restaurant traffic from high gas prices and increased operating costs for facilities that already use 2.5 times more energy than other commercial operations, according to the Consortium for Energy Efficiency (CEE).

Seeking cost controls and courting consumers increasingly attuned to environmental responsibility, foodservice operators are looking for resource-efficient facilities and equipment. Large operators including McDonald’s, Starbucks and Wal-Mart have published their resource management philosophies and are driving resource efficiency into their new facilities, existing operations and purchasing strategies. Design consultants and facility managers report that major projects, especially in the colleges and universities with activist constituencies, are requiring certifications of a reduced environmental footprint, including abridged energy use.

Interest in energy saving is widespread and mainstream. The NRA noted in its 2006 forecast that more than 50 percent of operators purchased new energy-saving equipment. Leading equipment manufacturers have embraced energy-saving and resource-efficient product development, offering more products certified to deliver energy savings and reduced energy bills to operators. While admirable, this may not be enough to avoid the watchful eyes of eager regulators. California already has adopted 2008 regulations that require energy and water efficiency in ice machines and the Federal Government is set to implement similar requirements in 2010.

Within foodservice, manufacturers and others must accelerate efforts to develop energy-saving solutions for operators following these four practical steps:

Communicate the benefits and availability of resource-efficient equipment. By making it easier for foodservice operators to identify, evaluate and purchase efficient equipment, they are able to implement energy-saving strategies immediately.

Develop and produce more energy-efficient equipment using existing and advanced technology. While some fear that customers won’t reward these efforts, Energy Star data shows that sales growth in energy-saving equipment outpaces other categories. That’s supported by a growing number of incentive programs like those available in California and more than 20 other states.

Collaborate with customer, trade and other groups to develop voluntary national standards in more categories. Existing voluntary standards like Energy Star and CEE provide helpful guidelines and standardized measurements. We need voluntary standards in more equipment categories.

Set more aggressive internal targets. Voluntary standards are a challenge to be exceeded. Aiming high and surpassing those standards adds value for operators.

If our industry doesn’t move quickly to expand energy-efficient solutions, we risk becoming victims of inconsistent public policy leading to a myriad of conflicting regulations. Worse, we will have failed foodservice operators who are counting on us for help.

“Parting Shot’’ is a monthly opinion column written on a rotating basis by guest authors. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of FE&S.

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