Over the past few months, I’ve done a lot of writing and editing of materials describing sustainable food service operations. In addition to helping operators fulfill their potential for socially responsibility, sustainability practices typically lower overall program costs, boost local economies and create new revenue streams. Equipment end-users increasingly understand this; consultants are positioning themselves to offer sustainable facility designs, equipment packages and program procedures.
Where are food service equipment manufacturers and dealers in all this? Many are working at changing their corporate culture to instill “green” principles and practices such as reducing use of raw manufacturing materials, decreasing energy consumption during business hours, switching to recyclable packaging and alternative fuels, and offering more ENERGY STAR™-certifiable equipment. None of these changes is cheap or easy, and none of them would be taking place if the economic case for sustainable operations wasn’t becoming self-evident: Going green now saves money, sometimes initially and sometimes over time, for food services and their E&S suppliers.
All this is good news for industry members who regard restaurants and noncommercial food services as potential sources of social progress, as well as centers of nutritional support, socialization and income. Installation of equipment that consumes less natural resources, preparation of locally grown seasonal foods and facilities incorporating a maximum of sustainable materials all help to safeguard our environment, enhance communities’ financial futures and convince customers that their dining destinations are dedicated to their short- and long-term welfare.
Everyone in the equipment and supplies distribution channel, as well as commercial and noncommercial operators, has reason to celebrate the opportunities for professional improvement sustainable practices are creating. Finding new, socially responsible ways of saving money, for food services and their customers, is a winning response during a time marked by the worst economic downturn since the 1930s and a social movement for accountable stewardship of our remaining natural resources. So, customer counts and check averages have declined further than during any other period in living memory; successful restaurateurs and food service operators have adapted by becoming leaner, greener and more responsive to diners’ needs and expectations.
Before we declare the world and our industry fully saved, however, food service equipment suppliers and end-users will need to overcome a looming and formidable obstacle – the difficulty of recycling or re-using today’s kitchen appliances and their component systems.
It is true that recycling of engineered manufactured goods is not mandatory in North America. Not yet. Nonetheless, it’s easy to envision social or legislative pressures “forcing” foodservice equipment makers to build food storage, prep, production, holding and display pieces that can be processed into new products or disposed of in environmentally neutral ways at the end of their useful life. Many operators already participate in the conversion of leftover foods and other organic waste into alternative fuels and growing environments that produce fruit and vegetables for their own programs. It’s pretty close to a sure thing that sooner not later, refrigerators, ovens, dishwashers, serving counters and their ilk will also have to become just as reusable, if they don’t disappear into the great Cycle or Renewal altogether.