Today, better business is all about energy efficiency, and every restaurant—including yours—should practice conservation and sustainability. Sharon Aris reports.
Most light bulb moments seem so obvious in retrospect. And the big, bright idea of the moment is this: cutting your power bill is good for your bottom line and good for the environment. But like most breakthroughs, it all comes down to execution, and that requires some thinking outside the box. So usually it takes something extra to go from spark to actually doing it.
For restaurateur Johnny Iodice, owner of the Vineyard in St Kilda, the push came via the aptly named ‘Switched On’ program, shortly after they’d had a big power bill.
In 2003, this joint project by the Melbourne and Port Phillip city councils targeted the energy use of 35 local cafés and restaurants. Switched On offered establishments a consultant who would audit the business’s energy consumption and custom tailor solutions, with a promise that any investments made would be earned back by savings to the overall power bill. Some subsidies for retrofitting were also included—all with the aim of driving down energy consumption—saving power bills and the planet at the same time.
With the Vineyard in the market for solutions, the suggestions from the consultant were welcome. Iodice says it mostly came down to looking after the little things: installing sensor switches in areas that weren’t constantly used, like the storerooms; putting in more energy efficient light globes and a split system air conditioner; and installing a different hot water system, all with a total outlay of about $2,000. “It was a really good incentive,” he says of the program, particularly with the subsidies, adding the packaged information and one-stop-shop prepaid consultant was important. “It really required the Council to get this stuff across, otherwise you’re just thumbing the Yellow Pages. So you knew the advice was community driven, not just someone trying to make a profit.” Project-wide the results were impressive, with an average ‘payback’, whereby the new initiatives paid for themselves, in a little over eight months.
Three years down the track, Iodice still endeavours to carry out the basic principles when new work is done in the restaurant—instead of gas heaters in the alfresco dining area, they’ve recently installed more efficient electric ones—but, he says, having put in so much new equipment since the initial audit they’re probably due for another appraisal. He’d love to see the scheme offered again.
For another participant in the project, function venue Red Scooter, Switched On wasn’t just a good idea—it was a tipping point. The company was initially attracted by the project’s incentives: the energy efficiency survey that checked every piece of electrical equipment used, pinpointing the old and power hungry, and the city paying half the cost of a lighting upgrade. Red Scooter’s initial investment only cost $1,000, with changed light globes taking a large share. Later two glass washers were replaced with more efficient ones that not only used less water and power, but also cut labour costs, as a staff member was no longer required to polish the glasses after. Within 12 months that $20,000 investment had paid for itself—now they were on a roll.
Next, Red Scooter calculated its environmental footprint by the amount of CO2 emissions produced each year, going so far as to add supplier vehicles to the equation. And here’s where they fundamentally began to change the way they do business—the emission calculation made them privileged local suppliers. They kept going with the calculations, adding how guests get to the venue and how staff get to work. Once they had worked out a total tonnage of CO2 emissions, they signed up to the CO2 offset business Greenfleet as Australia’s first carbon-neutral venue. One thousand trees were planted in the first year; this year they will double that. They carefully monitor their air conditioners, keeping the temperature of their rooms between 18 and 20 degrees in winter and 25 to 27 degrees in summer.
Equipment, particularly range hoods, is regularly serviced to improve efficiency, while dishwashers are only operated when full and the water is recycled in them. They use gas for ovens, stoves, deep fryers and hot water services as it costs less and produces fewer greenhouse emissions than electricity (most Victorian electricity being derived from burning eco-unfriendly brown coal). For sustainability, they recycle oil, cardboard, corks, glass and plastic, purchase recycled toilet paper, wash dishes with a plug in the sink and favour phosphorus-free products for dishwashing and cleaning. “We know exactly how many litres of recyclable products we recycle, how many litres of waste goes into landfill. For us, it’s really about meeting the needs of the present without jeopardising the future,” says Red Scooter managing director Eammon Hamilton, who points out that doesn’t mean they’re not business-minded. “When you’re talking sustainability, it’s community and environment and economic. All those three things need to be there.”
Indeed, they make sure their clients and potential clients know about this. “We started to see a way we could do business better and also use it as a tool to market the business,” adds Hamilton. “There’s a lot of businesses out there that only want to do business with others that are green. It’s a much better form of marketing than spending advertising dollars in an ad in the paper.” He notes without irony several electricity companies are significant clients and says a lot of companies make a point in their speeches of saying how proud they are to be in a carbon-neutral venue. They use it to target business awards.
These measure have also been incorporated into a media campaign. “We had three or four write-ups in the local paper. We’ve found that type of marketing to be a lot more effective.”
Indeed, they use it in their marketing comprehensively, both across and up and down the chain. “One thing we picked up six months ago was the importance of educating our staff. We realised we had all these people coming to an event, and maybe the organiser knew what we did, but what about the rest? We have speakers coming in for staff training, so our staff can then become our marketing people. And the staff response has been excellent.
“You have to have an investment in it personally to drive it. It can’t just be a business thing,” says Hamilton. “But it needs to have a value to the business to be sustainable.”
Adding business value to environmental measures is central to the concept of Village Green, a business in the business of sustainability. Established seven years ago by former chef Doug Smith, Village Green works with local partnerships—typically local governments—assisting small businesses implement environmental changes, which save them money and also reduce their environmental impact. Based in Victoria, it’s now rolling out in other states and has recently boasted helping its 1,000th business. “When I started it was like we were from Mars,” says Smith, “people just wanted to make money. But when we showed them the financial value, especially when the costs of electricity and water are rising, people become very receptive.”
He says while businesses generally save around $500 a year in direct operating costs, some make huge savings: one restaurant managed to save $15,000 a year just by changing the way they operated the ovens and deep fryers. Indeed, says Smith, for restaurants there are a slew of changes that can be made, via both refitting (replacement of halogen globes with compact fluorescents is the big one) and also with behavioural changes, like how dishwashers and cool-rooms are operated.
For each participating business, Village Green conducts an environmental audit that benchmarks it against other like businesses. Tailored recommendations are offered along with workshops on behavioural change, with the aim of developing a sustainable business management model that includes how to market these changes as a point of difference. One year later, another audit is conducted to show the changes.
One restaurant that decided to take up the offer of a Village Green work-over was Garfish in Crows Nest. “We were curious to see what they thought of us and the energy we consumed,” explains restaurateur Mark Scanlan. “Hopefully they would point us in the right direction.”
While he discovered “some workshops were helpful, some weren’t,” he observed a lot of it was commonsense, like checking the seals on the refrigerators, “which we were already doing.”
With much of the staff training advice focused around not turning on equipment until it’s ready to be used—like only using one oven in the kitchen until service and not operating a second Salamander grill when not busy—Scanlan admits, “the hard thing is keeping on top of our staff to adopt the changes on a daily basis. I’m not here at 7am to check that.” He points out sometimes he’s asking chefs to unlearn years of practice—not an easy task.
There’s also some suggestions he concedes won’t be adopted. “They repeatedly made the suggestion we retrofit our halogen lights,” but having spent a significant amount with a designer in creating the restaurant’s ‘feel’ in the first place, he’s not confident the new lighting would be as spectacular, so in this case he’s unwilling to sacrifice design for savings. (He has, however, changed the lighting in the hallways and the bathrooms.) Still, Scanlan is complementary of the report that showed them where they can reduce waste and save on energy and water consumption.
“The domestic sector is putting pressure on business to be more responsible,” concludes Smith, who says he can tell when this is really all working when making these changes become part of the culture of an organization, not just an additional impost.