Going green makes green
When it comes to “greening” restaurants, there is a perception problem. People in food service think sustainability is all about the food, said Richard Young, senior engineer and director of education at the Food Service Technology Center in San Ramon, Calif.Young has studied energy efficiency, water conservation, waste reduction and general sustainability in commercial food service for the past 20 years. At the Food Service Technology Center, he translates that knowledge into practical information, performing on-site energy audits and giving recommendations to restaurateurs on ways to save energy, reduce waste and conserve water, choices that will ultimately save them money, too, he said.”We’re talking about sustainability beyond the plate. Saving energy and water is just as important to your sustainability initiatives as buying local and organic food,” Young said. “It’s not as sexy. Well, it’s sexy to us engineers but not to your celebrity chef.”The good news for chefs, Young said, is when you cut your utility bill by $10,000 per year – either through more efficient appliances or smarter operations – it’s money in your pocket. It’s cash that can help chefs balance the extra cost of buying those sexy sustainable food products, such as wild salmon.Young is one of two keynote speakers at The Big Green THINK, a new event taking place Tuesday at the Arrabelle in Lionshead that aims to connect hospitality businesses with the resources to achieve greater sustainability. A project of the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability, the Vail Valley Partnership and the Environmental Protection Agency, the event will focus on the greening of hoteliers, restaurateurs, caterers and other guest-oriented businesses in the Vail Valley. “The Big Green THINK brings together national experts and local hospitality leaders to understand how sustainability trends affect the industry,” said Matt Scherr, executive director of the Alliance. “Consumer demand, new regulations and new business opportunities are already changing how we do business, and we’ll get an understanding of how those future pressures are already shaping present initiatives.”
Glen Hasek, publisher and editor of Green Lodging News, who has more than 14 years of experience writing about and marketing the hospitality industry, will give a “Green State of the Lodging Industry,” summarizing various trends and explaining what’s driving the green transformation. “The major hotels, in particular, are very concerned about sustainability for various reasons,” Hasek said. “I’ll talk about 10 reasons why any company or hotel should be concerned, ranging from climate change to risings costs of operations, energy and water, government regulations and consumer demand.”Earlier this summer, a Travelocity survey revealed that eco-friendly properties are receiving higher consumer reviews than their nongreen counterparts. Hasek said meeting planners are specifically targeting green hotels, and consumers, if given the choice, will choose a green hotel over a non-green hotel.”It’s certainly a marketing advantage,” Hasek said. “So I will also talk about 10 best practices hotels should consider, including towel and linen reuse, ozone for laundry, dual flush toilets, solar thermal, food waste decomposition systems, compact fluorescents and purchasing biodegradable products.”But incorporating sustainability into lodging properties is about more than marketing and lip service, Hasek said. It’s about the bottom line.”Hoteliers aren’t doing this because it’s the warm and fuzzy thing to do. It’s because it’s more profitable operations,” Hasek said. “It’s smart business, and not to do it is foolish because you can run a more profitable building by incorporating these type of processes, technologies and products.”
The incremental sustainable steps that Executive Chef Mark Fischer has taken over the past 12 years at his two Carbondale restaurants, Six89 and Phat Thai, however, are about that warm and fuzzy feeling.”For me, it’s a lot more gratifying to run a sustainable business, even when it’s not the most convenient way. It’s a personal choice,” Fischer said. “We also live with what we do, and what we do is a way for me to sleep better at night.”Fischer will join Brook Le Van, of Sustainable Settings in Carbondale, and Shelly McCandless, president of Eat Green Denver, on a panel during one of two breakout sessions following the keynote speeches at The Big Green THINK. He plans to share his successes and struggles in making the leap to running a greener restaurant.Fischer said it’s about finding balance and making “the right thing to do” work with the long-term economic success of a business.”Vegetables that are grown 100 miles away cost us more right out of the gate than the vegetables grown 5,000 miles away, but the shelf life is longer and they’re fresher,” Fischer said. “Compact fluorescent lights cost a lot more, but over the course of 10 years, the money comes back.”Panelists John Gitchell, of Sustainable Business Solutions; Melissa McLoota, of the Sonnenalp Resort in Vail; and Jeffrey Burrell, of the Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa in Avon, will talk about the hotel industry in the second breakout session.The Big Green THINK also will feature an expo and mixer, opportunities for attendees to have candid conservation with featured hospitality experts.Cassie Pence is a freelance writer based in Vail. She volunteers for the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability.