Building a sustainable business

In the first of a three part series, we consider the sustainability of a restaurant from the construction stage through to fit-out and service. First, Liz Campbell considers what are the implications in constructing a sustainable restaurant?

Recently, Trout Point Lodge in Canada was declared a “champion of sustainability” and received two stars from the UK-based Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA), the very first instance of the SRA’s rating scheme implementation in North America.

The chic Nova Scotia wilderness resort has built an international clientele with its sustainable ethos. “We’re seeing more and more people come here because they appreciate what we’re doing,” says Charles Leary who, with Vaughan Perret, celebrates local Acadian food in the lodge’s small restaurant, serving locals as well as lodge guests.

The pair designed the magnificent log building and did much of the work themselves. Cross-ventilation and an overhanging roof cool the building in the summer. Wood stoves provide heat in winter. Energy efficient appliances and lighting, as well as large windows providing natural illumination, keep their electricity bill for the 4000+ sq ft building at just $100/month (about half what their employees pay for a small house down the road).

“We encourage guests to think about waste and be conservative in their energy use,” says Leary.

In the restaurant, a table d’hôte menu keeps waste down. There are choices, but these are kept to a minimum. Local wild forage – grape leaves, Jerusalem artichokes, hen-of-the-woods, cattail roots  – offers guests opportunities to sample unique foods. Perret loves to educate visitors about why they do what they do.

But lest you think this is rustic living, Trout Point screams luxury and is a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World. The mod-cons are there, albeit in environmentally friendly fashion. Landscape lighting is solar-powered and the relaxing hot tub is wood-fired. The river provides a natural swimming pool. “You don’t have to sacrifice comfort and style for sustainability,” says Leary.

The success of a low tech design like this one doesn’t surprise Martin Townsend, director of BREEAM. “We’re very good at over-engineering modern buildings,” he says ruefully. “Returning to older designs can often be very effective. It starts with thinking about the people inside the building. Is there enough light? Is there adequate air exchange? How does sound transfer so it isn’t too noisy? Is this a great space to work or live?”

Similar to LEED in America, DGMB in Germany and Green Star in Australia, BREEAM is a global sustainability score card found in more than 60 countries, which offers certification with five rating levels. Many international green building projects pursue dual certification with both LEED and BREEAM.

“We aren’t prescriptive but we engage people at the local level using the local culture to meet standards. We look at what practices push the envelope around the world and we benchmark what can be achieved,” says Townsend. For example, when BREEAM prescribed low flow toilets, these weren’t even available for sale in UK. “There were lots of complaints,” laughs Townsend. “But within six months, one smart manufacturer introduced them here. Today, they’re standard equipment. We see part of our role as driving the market.”

Designing for sustainability begins before the first shovelful of earth is scooped. “A little thought can save a lot later,” says Townsend, and architect Jean-Louis Coquereau, AIA, agrees. The designer of Claire’s on Cedros in San Diego, Calif., one of America’s most successful LEED Platinum restaurants, says the most important first step is to have an owner with a vision. “Then you have to have the entire design team – owner, architects, landscape designers, kitchen designer, engineers – working together from the outset,” says Coquereau. “It’s a tough road so everyone has to be dedicated to the process.”

While building green isn’t more expensive (typically 1-5% more for construction costs which are actually rapidly offset by energy savings once the building is operational), it’s important to establish early just how far-reaching the project will be. Building green does not have to cost a penny more than building a conventional project. Early goal-setting is an extremely important consideration. When sustainable strategies are clearly specified, they tend to be more successful and cost-effective. Having an integrated team ensures everyone is on the same page from the beginning and as the project progresses,” says Jacob Kriss, media associate with the US Green Building Council, developers of the LEED rating system. “In fact, USGBC has a pilot credit, IDp60, that rewards programmes that practice principles of integrated design.”

He adds that an upfront investment of 2% in green building design, on average, results in life cycle savings of 20% of the total construction costs – more than 10 times the initial investment. LEED certification has also been shown to reduce operating costs by an average of 13.6% for new construction projects and 8.6% for existing building projects.

Great opportunities can be missed without preplanning, suggests BREEAM’s Townsend. “Start with the location – are there multiple transport opportunities for staff and customers? Does the orientation of the building take advantage of natural light and reap positive solar gain?”

A good example of marrying these two concepts can be found at Claire’s on Cedros. Located in a walkable neighbourhood, it is also located near bus stops and offers bike lock-ups. Cars stay cool parked under a roofed car port topped with 54 photovoltaic panels which provide 37% of energy for the restaurant. Hybrids get preferred parking sites.

Most importantly, green buildings can be effective education tools, says Townsend. “We’ve delivered this delicious, local food to your plate in the most energy efficient way possible.” It spreads the right message.

But that education process can deliver on many different fronts. It attracts better employees, keeping them engaged and excited to be working for a restaurant they see as doing ‘the right things’. In addition, customers like to feel good about both what and where they eat. “Given the choice, an eco-friendly venue will win because it adds something more to the package,” says Trout Point’s Leary.

Technomics senior business development associate, Jessica Cravero patently agrees, “Often, they’re willing to pay more to support a company whose values align with theirs…. Communicating these efforts to employees and guests is no simple task, either. But businesses that take on the task stand to gain ground with an increasingly knowledgeable consumer base through the kind of enhanced brand trust that builds repeat business. With sustainability initiatives, it’s also absolutely possible for restaurant operators to do well by doing good.”


Things to consider

When considering sustainable construction, there are both short term gains and long-term advantages. The following are suggestions from both BREEAM and LEED. Taking these into account from the outset can save money and simplify the process:

• The average building is expected to stand for 50 years. Durable cladding will last longer and have lower maintenance costs over that time.

• The cost of water, particularly in some areas of the world, continues to rise sharply. Building in features like gray water recycling or rain water harvesting for toilets and landscaping is more easily achieved at the outset.

• If a building has to be demolished, can the materials be re-used for the new construction, saving costs for materials and sending less to landfill. Claire’s on Cedros was able to recycle 75% of the previous building. In Toronto, Pearson International Airport recycled 99% of materials when rebuilding Terminal 1.

• Are the materials used in construction sourced locally? The savings on environmental emissions for materials travelling thousands of miles are saved and it creates a vibrant market for local goods and employees – potential customers in the future.

• Consider placement of kitchen, cold storage, etc. to take advantage of the natural features of the building. Placing cold storage on the sunny side of the building could result in greater cooling costs over time.

• Consider a green roof. It will insulate, create interest, and could provide a growing area for herbs, fresh flowers, etc.

• Consider the addition of photovoltaic panels in appropriate locations. In some cases, these have not only provided electricity for the entire operation, but also enabled the owner to sell power back to the grid, thereby generating funds.

• Use natural materials as much as possible. In particular, choose sustainably harvested timber with certification which costs the same these days as timber from areas where forest destruction is so severe it is impacting on the whole planet.

• Low VOC paints and carpeting have become almost commonplace today. These impact the air quality of the building which can seriously affect employees. Losing a month of employee time might repay any minor cost differences.

Liz Campbell


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