The challenge of making restaurant buildings energy efficient

July 25, 2013

Sustainability for restaurants usually translates to sourcing organic raw produce, local ingredients, managing daily waste through composting, and urban farming. Rarely does a restaurant receive the attention merited for its energy efficiency. That’s mostly because “restaurants are one of the most difficult building types for achieving superior environmental performance”, according to Arup sustainability consultant Russell Fortmeyer.

Fortmeyer goes on to explain why. Rigorous climate control equipment loads and longer-than-usual operating hours make restaurant buildings some of the biggest energy consumers. Add to that multiple air changes and food refrigeration and you have some of the toughest obstacles for energy efficiency.

This difficulty of making restaurant buildings more energy efficient is also reflected in LEED certification trends: only a fraction of all LEED certified projects claim to be stand-alone restaurants. Stand-alone restaurants have faced steep energy barriers since the inception of LEED for Retail. Nevertheless individual restaurants have employed creative ways to overcome these barriers.

Lucy Restaurant and Bar, a member of the LEED Platinum Bardessono resort in Yountville, California has employed geothermal heating and cooling along with 940 photovoltaic panels as part of its energy efficiency initiatives.

Two Dunkin Donuts operations in St. Petersburg, Florida owned by local entrepreneur Robert Aziz have achieved Silver and Gold LEED ratings by monitoring energy usage, installing concrete foam walls, and employing high performance HVAC and refrigeration equipment. However, efficiencies achieved with regards to water usage and indoor environmental quality superseded any gains in energy efficiency.

Similarly, the major fast-food chain, Chipotle, also a pilot project for LEED for Retail at its Gurnee, Illinois location, focused on LEED for Retail energy performance criteria. In this case too, however, any reduction in energy was outperformed by other sustainability initiatives. This is evident by the fact that Chipotle has successfully implemented other sustainability strategies at multiple locations.

These examples merit a discussion about creating custom certifications for buildings with varied energy needs. To the same effect, the LEED Volume program attempts to streamline certification for multiple buildings of a similar type through prototyped standards.

Restaurants, however, continue to plough through obstacles in their pursuit of energy efficiency. According to Jacob Kriss, spokesperson for USGBC, “organizations such as Starbucks, McDonalds, and Chick-fil-A have partnered with USGBC to achieve the common goal of building a healthy sustainable future.” Starbucks itself has 154 LEED-certified stores in 17 countries. These LEED certifications have been achieved on the basis of water conservation, illuminating via LEDs, and sourcing recycled non-toxic materials.

Once again, the team at Lucid wants to take this opportunity to emphasize the importance of real-time energy monitoring, especially in buildings with atypical energy uses. Access to real-time energy data and historic comparisons can be an essential tool in understanding the true nature of energy consumption trends.

Source: Green Retail and Hospitality: Capitalizing on the growth in Green Building Investments, SmartMarket Report by McGraw Hill Construction
Image source: Forbes Travel Guide