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Energy saving is a bright idea

This Saturday marks Earth Hour, an annual event to focus minds on protecting the planet. Restaurant owners need look no further than their kitchens to dramatically reduce their impact, says Andrew Stephen.

If the restaurant fairy godmother appeared, waved her wand and offered an instant 5% increase in sales, there is not a restaurateur in the country that wouldn’t bite her magic dust-sprinkling hand off. And yet the truth is that the sector is doing just the opposite. By implementing mainly no cost, common-sense measures restaurants and foodservice businesses could reduce their energy use by 20%, realising the equivalent of that sizeable boost to their sales. Add into the bargain a significant cut in their CO2 emissions and it’s almost unthinkable that more in the sector haven’t switched on to the benefits of energy efficiency.

The time has come to take the heat out of kitchen – even more so given the 9% price hike announced by one of the biggest providers this month. Leaving gas hobs burning bright all day while simultaneously running extractor fans and dishwashers or not making the switch to LED lights is simply no longer acceptable. This month we’ve been calling on the industry to get energy smart.

Lots of our progressive members already are – and through a combination of staff engagement, a little capital investment and some smart innovation, made giant strides. Battlesteads, a hotel and restaurant in Northumberland, has reduced its carbon footprint from 23kg of CO2 per room down to 5kg. They have seen their energy bill drop below £10,000, yet all the while they’ve been 17% busier. Owner Richard Slade has invested, but he insists that by doing so he’s planning for the future, ensuring lower bills that mean the investment has paid for itself.

One business that’s quite literally taking the heat out of the kitchen – and putting it to good use – is Mexican group Wahaca. None of its new restaurants have boilers. Instead, they’ve installed a system that captures the heat from the fridges, freezers and extractors and uses it to heat all of its hot water. Carluccio’s is among others using the same technology.

And though these companies and many more are doing their best to make significant dents in the UK hospitality industry’s £1.3 billion energy bill, the sector is still burning 21,600 kWh a year. A lack of capital to invest in energy smart equipment remains an issue for some. But it’s a restaurant’s workforce that can provide the greatest energy dividend. Given the right motivation, basic training and potentially some small scale incentives, employees can be transformed into an eager army of bright sparks. Positively engaging staff can cut energy use by a third, according to consultants Carbon Statement. Pizza Hut, as part of the re-imaging of more than 200 of its restaurants, has gone to great lengths to involve its 8,000 employees in its quest to use less energy. Since 2012 they’ve achieved a 15% reduction.

On 25 March dozens of restaurants will be hosting candlelit dinners to celebrate WWF’s Earth Hour, using it as an opportunity to start a conversation with their customers about their positive impact on the environment. It should also serve as a stark reminder to those that haven’t yet lit the fuse on energy inefficiency that the time to act is now. And in 12 months’ time, Earth Hour 2018 will be an excellent moment to reflect on what further progress the industry has made.

Thinking that you can reduce your utility bills and slow climate change without taking action is like believing in fairies. But energy prices are rising fast and that means every business needs to become more #energysmart.

 Andrew Stephen is chief executive at the Sustainable Restaurant Association.