Sustainability is at the forefront of much of the work carried out by foodservice design consultants these days. But just how easy is it to conceive and specify a green kitchen that does what it’s meant to?
We spoke to the following FCSI consultants to find out:
– Andrew Humble, Humble Arnold Associates
– Derek White, Food Service Consultants
– Kate Gould, KEG Catering Consultants
– Roz Burgess, Intelligent Catering
Which aspects of a commercial kitchen are you able to drive real energy efficiency gains from these days?
Kate Gould: You would definitely look at the prime pieces of equipment as far as the levels of production are concerned. That might include the use of combis and the ratio of combination ovens being used; making sure you don’t specify a 20-grid when it would be better to specify a 10-grid and a six-grid, with only one on at a time to cover production so the operator doesn’t end up with only 20% of their oven capacity being used.
Dishwashing is another issue. You have got to make sure that the correct energy saving and water facilities are available for that piece of equipment or are an option as far as the client is concerned — whether they are hot or cold fill, have heat recovery units on them and things like that. With refrigeration you need to make sure that the capacity of the fridge is correct for the unit and that within the design they are able to fit into well-ventilated areas.
Andrew Humble: I would say it all starts off with good design, which involves correct sizing and flows and appliance adjacencies. Then it is about focusing more on the equipment choice or different equipment groupings, I think that falls into three or four categories: cooking and ventilation — and I’d link those because ventilation rates derive from the cooking kit; refrigeration; dishwashing; and sundries like infra red taps and handwash basins. None of them in percentage terms are massive but they all add up. Additionally, you can get a knock-on effect if equipment is in the wrong place, there is too much of it, or a kitchen is oversized for what it is doing.
Derek White: The biggest way of saving energy costs from a reasonable sized kitchen is moving from gas to electric and when you do that you obviously change to induction. By changing to induction you are using less fuel than you would have done with traditional electrical appliances. That then has a knock-on effect in terms of the amount of energy you are dispelling out of the building via extraction. Other issues include the movement away from traditional methods of cooking. Bratt pans and combi ovens have been around for a while, but they are becoming more multifunctional and sophisticated.
How easy is it to assess the energy consumption of catering equipment? To what extent do you rely on data supplied by the manufacturers?
Derek White: The FCSI in conjunction with CESA several years ago tried to get individual monitoring instruments on equipment and make that sort of measurement, but at this moment in time the technology is not really there and we are more or less totally reliant on what the manufacturers tell us. Other than that, the only way you can measure it is to take a reading of the stuff that you did a year ago and compare it with another year, but then, of course, you have to factor in rises in energy prices. The more time goes on, pressure will be put on the industry to make it easier to do, but at this moment in time I would say the majority of consultants and distributors are reliant on what the manufacturers tell them.
Roz Burgess: I use it as a general guideline. I prefer to test the equipment to really know, but you have got to do proper like-for-like tests, which is not easy and takes time. You can’t test every single fryer on the market for one project so you do rely on the manufacturers, coupled with your own experience of that equipment, to build up information over time. Some manufacturers are really good in the sense that they might say their latest equipment is an improvement on a previous model and they compare it to themselves. When they start comparing it to their competitors you just think, well they are not going to say a competitor’s equipment is amazing!
Kate Gould: I think it is imperative to have the data from the manufacturers to make an assessment of what the potential is. 40% of energy efficiency comes down to operational use and behaviour, but as far as the actual specification is concerned it is important to have that consumption information available to us. The data supplied by the manufacturer is paramount, but it is coming to a point where there is a need for transparency so that the end-user and consultants are able to make informed decisions on the best piece of equipment for the job.
That is not necessarily about saying one piece of equipment is more energy efficient than another, but that it is the most suitable piece of equipment from an operational or menu point of view. To be able to turn round and say that they are meeting the Energy Star standards or they are in the Energy Technology List also gives some kind of credibility too.
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What are the biggest challenges you face when designing a ‘green’ kitchen?
Andrew Humble: The inability to compare different manufacturers’ products is one aspect. There is the ETL listing, but in the UK there are very few other independent resources. Also, the capital expenditure is normally held in one purse but the revenue expenditure — the running costs — is often held by a different stakeholder. While the capital guys won’t completely disregard lifecycle costs it is not their prime objective, so there can be differences there sometimes.
A little anomaly which often makes me smile is that while the rest of the design teams are working very hard to get credits under the green building research scheme BREEAM, catering equipment is only awarded a maximum of two points even though kitchens are a big energy user in a lot of buildings. I think that more focus needs to be given to the interior components as opposed to the way the building is actually built.
Derek White: One of the biggest barriers at the moment is probably the willingness of older, more traditional-style chefs to change. There are still a lot of chefs out there who want a gas four-burner and a solid top. The barrier to date has also been capital cost. If you had a six-burner oven range at £3,000 and you wanted to have the same capacity induction hob of a similar build quality you are looking at three times the price. Once people can start comparing the cost of capital equipment against the cost of running it, it will be more beneficial but the problem you get in a lot of new developments is it is not necessarily the end-user that is spending the money.
Roz Burgess: You can design a kitchen to be really efficient but unless the chef actually operates it efficiently any savings can be negated. On a quiet Tuesday you might not need all of your equipment on, but if it is automatically turned on there isn’t anything in the design you can do to counter that, except to try and get more joined up. Unless you tell them that this piece of equipment uses less energy and flag it up, it just remains a big secret. One barrier I have faced recently when trying to put energy efficient equipment in is that there isn’t the incoming services to the building to support it. It might simply come down to the landlord not putting electric in, which can be quite frustrating because it is not a kitchen issue.
How would you assess current attitudes towards sustainability and energy efficiency among operators, and does it vary by sector?
Roz Burgess: Everybody says they are going to be efficient, but when it comes down to it you end up in quite a few meetings where people say, ‘actually we have got this we would like to do’, or ‘the flames look pretty and it gives more theatre’, or the operator simply ends up reverting to what they have always done. You can make sure they know what they need but unless they have got a similar outlook it is not going to affect anything. I work a lot with the high street and energy efficiency is really important there because of energy bills going up.
Again, though, it all comes down to the operators using it. Quite a few in the education sector are more old-fashioned. They like the idea of it and they are really excited by it, but they get a bit nervous. Another pain lies in the fact that there are the people who commission the project and the people who pay for it, and if the message hasn’t quite got through to the end-operator they often don’t realise they can make a big impact.
Andrew Humble: I think they are all pretty much switched on now. As consultants, most of us are involved in large infrastructure jobs so it is near to the top of most agendas and most have shareholders or consumers they are accountable to, which is really driving them to be green. We do a lot in the hotel sector and one of our recent projects involved the Edinburgh International Conference Centre. When potential customers are looking for a venue these days they will assess the green credentials of it, so it is having to focus on that to get the business.
Kate Gould: I would say that operators which have responsibility for the cost of their utilities on an ongoing basis have got more of an incentive to look at capital investment versus operational expenditure over the period of the lifetime of the unit — or the contract if it is a contract caterer. As soon as you get into the realms of a contractor not having to take any responsibility for the usage, it doesn’t make any difference. They can do what they like because they don’t have to pick up the bill at the end of the day.