Feature Article

Commercial Kitchens: Cooking Up Green Opportunities

Commercial kitchens must balance energy and water efficiency with functional design. This kitchen was customized to fit the needs of a luxury hotel in downtown San Diego.

Photo: Food Service Design Group/San Diego Restaurant Supply
Fifteen years ago I managed the kitchen of a busy lodge high in the Colorado Rockies, where we prepared more than 500 restaurant meals a day on aging equipment.

At 6:00 every morning, the first one into the kitchen flipped on all the lights and ventilation hoods, then turned on most of the ovens, stoves, griddles, broilers, dishwashers, and other equipment—which often sat unused for hours while the vent hoods worked needlessly to exhaust conditioned air from the kitchen and restaurant. Every Monday, stock was left to simmer overnight with one vent hood running full-blast. And when walk-in refrigerator space was limited, frozen foods, such as shrimp, were placed under open faucets to thaw, cold water trickling over the food and down the drain. Great food, enormous waste: similar scenes play out every day in restaurants across North America.

According to the Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) Food Service Technology Center (FSTC), commercial food service equipment consumes over $10 billion of energy per year in the U.S., with as much as 80% of that energy wasted—transformed into heat and noise by inefficient equipment. Considering that most kitchens run energy-intensive equipment for over fourteen hours a day, it’s not surprising that these spaces have about 2.5 times the energy intensity of other types of commercial building space—around 250,000 Btu/ft2, according to the Consortium for Energy Efficiency (CEE). The challenges of reining in this waste are enormous, yet attainable.

This article provides an overview of the equipment and other factors that affect energy and water use in commercial kitchens. I’ve left out some large categories, such as lighting, that are common to all buildings, while recognizing that these are also essential to saving energy in the commercial kitchen.

Published February 1, 2010