Is there a Twinkie hanging from your ceiling? What your lighting might really be saying about your “sustainable” restaurant.

bio pic 020208b smallerRichard Young, Senior Engineer and Director of Education

People who have seen me speak at conferences, workshops and tradeshows are familiar with my technique of using humor to make a point about energy efficiency. I love nothing better than to poke a little fun at some of the energy-wasteful things that I see in the food service world – not to be bossy or pedantic – just to lighten the mood and perhaps illuminate some of the things that we might all be doing better. With that attitude in mind, I hope you will indulge me as we ponder the question of “the Twinkie hanging from your ceiling”.

But first, a little background: I love good food and I especially love good, locally-grown, freshly prepared food. In fact as I’m writing this I’m enjoying a cup of premium “third-wave” coffee and a vegetarian egg brioche with fresh figs, greens and walnuts on a gluten free bun. (This would be the appropriate time for my burger-and-fries friends to have a chuckle at my expense.) I’m sitting in a beautiful sunlit cafe in Oakland CA and right across the street I can see the super-popular, nationally-famous restaurant that first inspired the idea of these dangling twinkles that I want to talk about.

This restaurant is super-popular for a reason; the food is amazingly good, fresh, local, and creative and the chef/owner is completely dedicated to his craft. I’ve had some of my favorite meals here and it was in this restaurant, while I was having lunch with lighting expert Derry Berrigan, that I was first able to articulate what was bugging me so much about many of my favorite local restaurants and bars. Derry and I were talking about the current practice of using antique-looking Edison style lamps in so many new establishments. These lamps are not our favorites. Besides the fact that the last time these lamps were fashionable was back in the 90’s (that would be the 1890’s) they are incredibly inefficient light sources and they add lots of heat to the space. To a sustainability geek like myself, these are charming little eco-nightmares.

In a flash of insight it suddenly came to me: “Derry” I said, “this chef, who cares so much about food sustainability that he raises his own chickens, would never pull a Twinkie out of the package, throw it on a plate and add it to his desert menu, but his ceiling is filled with these antique space heaters masquerading as lighting. Seeing these lamps in a restaurant that prides itself on sustainability is just as weird as seeing a Twinkie on the menu.”

 twinkie

[Now don’t get me wrong. I love a Twinkie as much as the next guy. They are a much beloved snack food with an amazing shelf life. It’s just that they are not exactly farmer’s market fare.]

“Derry” I continued, “I think that if this chef and all his chef friends knew that these energy guzzlers were driving up their utility bills and wasting natural resources, they would find some alternative and this nostalgia fad would fade away.”

Derry, who is one of the Nation’s top LED experts and a forward thinking lighting designer, had a quick comeback. “Richard, you have to admit that these lamps do add a certain quaint charm to the space, especially in an old brick building like this. What’s your efficient alternative?”

Okay, point well taken. Derry always inspires me to think about the big picture. So here are a couple of thoughts regarding these lamps:

  1. If you really love the look of these lamps, please use them sparingly and think of them as “quaint decorations.” Then, make sure that you are using the most energy-efficient lighting in the rest of your business.
  2. Check out some of the efficient alternatives to these lamps. Manufacturers like Rambus and Plumen make some lamps with really interesting form factors.
  3. Consider using actual fixtures instead of just lamps on a cord. When did we decide as a culture that bare bulbs hanging from the ceiling were “good design”? An LED lamp inside a nice pendant fixture is a better looking alternative and the energy savings will pay for the extra up-front cost of the fixture itself.

The bottom line is this: If you really want to operate a truly green and sustainable restaurant, then you should not be lighting your space with the most inefficient, energy-wasting light bulb on the planet. No Twinkies on the menu – no Twinkies hanging from the ceiling!

Changing Course: Energy Efficiency, LEED and the Institutional Kitchen

Richard Young, Senior Engineer and Director of Education

It has been a very busy summer at the FSTC. In the next few blog entries, we will share some of the places we’ve been and lessons learned starting with the Association of Correctional Foodservice Affiliates’ (ACFSA) International Conference in Reno. Because of the FSTC’s participation with the US Green Building Council and our work on the LEED criteria, the folks at ACFSA asked us to come to their conference and explain the basics of the LEED program to the correctional foodservice directors.

Very few correctional facilities, including correctional healthcare facilities, have had any experience with LEED, so the discussion in the morning seminar was fruitful and went well beyond the basics of green buildings and into the purchasing and specification of efficient equipment. A subject that was later continued in the afternoon Equipment-Experts panel led by Ira Kaplan of Irinox Industries.

Here are a few of the questions, answers, and insights:

One of the audience members shared how she was discouraged by her superiors from getting LEED AP certification. They told her that LEED would be “dead in three years”. She was relieved to hear that LEED is alive and well and not going away. We talked about the fact that the first version of LEED was initially created in 1998 – not very long ago for an international standard – and that the LEED criteria were still evolving. The new LEED Version 4, that just passed ballot, will be out soon and will be simpler and easier to use then previous versions. We also talked about the fact that many state and federal building programs are tying new-building funding to LEED-standard design and construction, meaning that LEED will not be fading away anytime soon.

Several audience members also related how difficult it is to get people engaged in bringing “sustainability” to the institutional kitchen – a point reiterated in the afternoon equipment panel.  In the morning seminar we had to agree that it is sometimes an insurmountable challenge to get “old minded” architects/engineers to change their institutionalized thinking and incorporate efficiency or new technologies into their kitchens. So, we focused on the money argument and cooked up an example, using the FSTC online calculators, where the high-efficiency oven saved almost $14,000 over the low-efficiency oven in its 12 year lifespan. We all agreed that saving money is probably the best way to influence decision makers in an institutional setting.

In the afternoon panel, the equipment experts made another really important point: food service directors have a lot more influence over design and policy than they realize and it is time to “flex that muscle” with everyone from architects to manufacturers.

Steve Welborn, Food Facilities Food Planning, pointed out how important it is to have a knowledgeable food service consultant working on the design and that it is just as important to have the food service director on the design/planning team.

Peter Cooper, Middleby Corporation, pointed out the power of knowledge and urged the foodservice directors to learn about their equipment, how it operates, and what it costs over its entire life cycle and both Ira Kaplan and John Horvath, Heritage Food Service Group, stressed the importance of finding the right service organization to take care of your equipment so you get the maximum lifespan.

Jim Beach, the current president of ACFSA, and a person with lots of experience building correctional kitchens, made a point that resonated loud and clear with everyone in the afternoon audience: “Most institutional food service directors will only oversee the creation of one kitchen in their lifetime so it’s important to learn about the equipment, demand the best, and stick to your guns.”

The equipment in institutional kitchens is expected to last a long, long time. Value engineering appliances to save a few bucks on the front end can cost you many times more in maintenance, performance and utility costs over the lifespan of that equipment.