Black: Energy efficiency boosts savings potential

Despite facing increased difficulties stemming from the country’s financial crisis, restaurateurs still are implementing eco-friendly initiatives at their businesses, said Dan Black, manager of sustainable energy for Delta Green, an energy consulting firm based in Columbus, Ohio. The goal, he noted, is to lessen their carbon footprints and save on costs in the long term.

What are three easy ways that restaurant operators can cut down on energy usage?

One of the first things, typically, is lighting. Look at it as low-hanging fruit. It’s not just the bulbs you use, but the fixtures, too. You may not need as many fixtures if you have more efficient bulbs that last longer. One of the other big things is waste—certainly what goes from the back of the store to the Dumpster. Make sure the only thing you’re shifting is trash and [consider] how often it is being picked up and shipped out. In some cases, a restaurant can have a container so large it is hardly ever picked up; you could wait till it is [completely] full. Finally, another thing that generates a lot of use is cooking oil. The use of fryer oil to heat hot-water systems or as a vehicle fuel substitution could represent a new revenue stream. A lot of restaurants are finding they can sell their oil for those uses.

What is the most important thing to know about becoming more energy efficient?

The first thing is the baseline itself. If a restaurateur doesn’t know how much energy is being used, it’s hard to answer how efficient [he or she] should or can be. The two largest users [of energy] are natural gases and electricity. That’s really the first step: Have a good understanding of what you’re using and how it varies from season to season and year to year and how you can reduce that usage.

Has the financial crisis had an effect on restaurants pursuing more green initiatives?

In some cases, yes. While some projects may be delayed, there are a lot of good reasons to participate, like the potential savings and lower costs. I do think it’s had an impact, but while energy prices have gone down [recently], it probably won’t stay that way forever. Undoubtedly the price will go up again. The question is when and how steeply?

What is the potential for savings and how long does it take to realize those savings?

It’s hard to answer because it depends on what choices you make. When you use energy, think about what you could cut back on, like not using your fryers all the time. The cost or benefit of reducing your footprint will pay off in the future. As regulations come in, there will be a price put on carbon. It also will improve your image with customers.

Why should more businesses be convinced to pursue green practices?

The two main things from our [perspective] are certainly the image, and I don’t want that to sound as shallow as it does, but at same time we don’t think it’s wrong to take credit for doing something you think is right. Cost savings is the second reason. The current economic climate may make [operators] scale back a bit in the near term, but we certainly don’t think this movement is going away simply because of a recession. We still have expectations of regulation.