Bilateral thinking: A singular notion

For many businesses the costs of going green seemingly outweigh the potential benefits, but soon we may not have the luxury of choice...

 

With hospitality businesses in awareness of the need to drastically this country reportedly wasting £540,000 every day through poor energy efficiency, we are coming to what I like to term the 'Foodservice Singularity.'

 

That is, the point in time where businesses can no longer ignore their carbon footprint without fear of severe repercussions, both moral and financial.

 

Financial, I hear you ask? Yes, especially if many foodservice providers can look beyond the daydream that the costs of going green far outweigh the benefits.

 

The premise is simple: energy is one of the main areas of cost for most caterers, therefore focusing on lowering your footprint will result in lowering your energy bills.

 

This is particularly relevant in the equipment area. But the current dynamic suggests that, as restaurants and hotels for example are in the main run by accountants whose role is to make books balance from one year to the next, they are consequently loath to bin expensive, perfectly good equipment like fridges, dishwashers and cookers in favour of new stock which has long term environmental benefits.

 

The key phrase here is of course 'long term.' In most cases the payback in terms of potential future energy savings is often regarded as being too long to be commercially viable. Many manufacturers are attempting to disprove this or, at the very least, alter perceptions.

 

Winterhalter's commercial dishwashers save up to 20% water and chemicals, and therefore cost. CEO David Smithson says: "I can't recall a meeting over the last year where saving energy hasn't been raised – and where I haven't been asked what we can do to help reduce energy, water and chemicals consumption and, ultimately, cut costs."

 

And through its range of low carbon, energy efficient refrigeration, Gram UK posits that caterers can now not only help save the environment but save substantial amounts of cash as well – up to 75% in fact.

 

According to the International Panel on Climate Change we have less than 15 years to reduce carbon in the atmosphere. Left to grow exponentially as it has, that's how long it will take to cause a 3°C temperature rise and all sorts of problems for the environment. It is, in effect, the Foodservice Singularity.

 

It seems, thankfully, that there is a growing improve energy efficiency in today's commercial kitchens. Figures suggest that energy-saving equipment is of course more expensive at first, but will pay you back in energy savings over eight to 10 years, and most probably a lot less if energy prices continue to go up. That seems quite reasonable if you want your business to be operating at the 15 year 'Foodservice Singularity' point.

 

However only around 10% of the industry is in a position where they are financially able to consider energy efficient equipment as a long term viability. This may be as a result of not fully maximizing energy saving methods in the kitchen, for example recycling heat from the kitchen atmosphere and dishwashers back into heating water, using one large refrigerator instead of several smaller ones placed around the kitchen, turning off taps, sourcing local food, and if all else fails getting the largest, most intimidating member of staff to persuade the accountant to include the lifetime costs of new equipment in the business plan...

 

What is the solution then to persuading businesses to switch to more long term efficient equipment? Government regulations will play a central role, but instead of stamping down on those not bending over to fulfill unrealistic targets, offering tax incentives to those that do. For example, the Danish government incentivises restaurateurs to buy eco- friendly equipment to the tune of a couple of grand a unit.

 

Many restaurants, hotels and catering companies lack the time and inclination to investigate energy efficient measures, but unless they do they will find themselves pariahs in an ever-changing industry. Fortunately there are organisations that help businesses to run more ethically and efficiently by providing support and advice.

 

The Carbon Trust is the government's response to the UK's move towards a low-carbon economy and gives free initial assessments of how your business uses energy. Envirowise, also government- funded, provides free advice on how reducing your environmental impact can increase profits. And Hospitable Climates offers all sectors of the hospitality industry a free advisory service to help reduce energy consumption.

 

But ultimately it is the willingness to think bilaterally, rather than of the immediate financial impacts, that will be the life or death of the industry.

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