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Green Savings

According to the National Restaurant Association ( restaurants use five times more energy per square foot than other commercial buildings. As more and more restaurants in the industry adopt eco-conscience initiatives in an effort to reduce energy consumption, many will find that these green practices are doing more than just reducing their carbon footprint. They also yield some significant savings, and in a time where the economy is in a downturn this is a welcomed benefit.

Yet many restaurant operators that are interested in pursing green options may need some help in differentiating which implementations will help reduce their bottom line. The key to implementing money-saving green practices is to strategically align initiatives that are sustainable over the long run. Over the past few months, Garden Fresh Restaurant Corp. ( (GFRC), parent company to Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes, has identified three initiatives in particular to be great ways to save money and go green at the same time.

1. Energy efficient HVAC and hot water systems
Installing smart energy controllers on a restaurant's HVAC and water heating systems is one green way that operators can save money. These state-of-the-art devices are programmed to bring water to full temperature at only specific times of the day along with matching heating and air conditioning to the operating needs of the restaurant. The controllers gather data from monitoring regular use patterns and implement corrective measures that reduce spike loads.

Last fall, GFRC installed monitoring and control technology provided by Orange, Calif.-based Equity Thru Energy (ETE) ( at 10 San Diego County sites. GFRC was able to reduce energy waste by maintaining appropriate temperatures throughout the day. The controllers automatically shut systems down during off-peak hours, while enabling on-site managers to adjust controls during unexpected periods of high activity.

To ensure ongoing efficiency, smart controllers are monitored through wireless Internet technology. Remote observation prevents tampering with control settings that can lead to waste, and allows for quick alerts and adjustment should anomalies occur. The early warning system will enable operators to make critical repairs before costly damage is incurred and extends the life of the equipment for added savings. With ETE's smart energy controllers, GFRC anticipates a 10 to 15 percent utility cost reduction, translating to a combined savings of $60,000 to $80,000 per year for the 10 stores.  

2. Compact fluorescent lighting
As advances in eco-kind lighting make incandescent bulbs seem less than bright, operators should consider installing compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) as an additional measure. Miniature versions of full-sized fluorescents, CFLs use 50 percent to 80 percent less energy than equivalent incandescent lamps and save an impressive 2,000 times their weight in greenhouse gases. Although CFLs have a purchase price of up to 10 times more than inefficient alternatives, their extended lifetime (up to 10 times longer) and gentler, long-term environmental impact more than compensate for the higher initial expense. Operators can achieve an average per unit annual savings of nearly $2,900.

3. Reduce, reuse, recycle
In terms of large-scale consumption, restaurants stand to realize significant savings through waste reduction and recycling, particularly as disposal fees continue to climb.  To promote resource efficiency, operators can switch to using only recyclable paper goods and to improve its waste system to be more cost effective and conservation-minded. This is a measure that GFRC encourages all Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes outlets to carry out. 
Joan Scharff joined Garden Fresh Restaurant Corp. in 1990 as a marketing manager and moved up the ranks to executive director of marketing. In 2006, her critical role in the expansion of the Garden Fresh brand and commitment to the company's mission and philosophy lead to her current position as executive director of brand & menu strategy.

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