KFC Goes Green…Are You Next?

By Robert Kravitz of The Ashkin Group

At this stage of the game, it’s kind of unusual for a KFC unit to make headlines when opening a new location.  After all, with 36,000 restaurants around the world, a new location opening is not really big news.  However, a couple of months ago when a new KFC outlet opened up in Indianapolis, it did indeed make headlines.  In fact, a recent search on Google showed more than 100,000 stories or references to this Indianapolis opening, from the Wall Street Journal to local neighborhood news handouts.

The reason for the hoopla?  This KFC location was designed and built according to criteria established by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, making it one of the Greenest and most sustainable in the company.

According to reports, the building is designed to use 25 percent less energy and water than a conventional KFC restaurant.  Instead of conventional cooking equipment, traditional restroom fixtures, and other conventional building components, only energy-efficient, water reducing, and resource responsible workings were install.*

Further, during construction, materials were sourced locally to eliminate transporting over long distances, which reduced fuel needs and greenhouse gasses.  In the parking lot, hybrid vehicles are given preferential parking.  And, an expansive waste recycling program has been initiated, including the recycling of cooking oil, plastics, and paper products.

Most likely, other restaurants, chains and franchises, as well as independently owned properties will soon be or are already following suit.  So what makes a restaurant Green?  What makes it sustainable?  Although these terms are often considered one and the same, they actually refer to two different things.

For assistance, we turned to Stephen Ashkin, long known as the “father of Green cleaning” in the professional cleaning industry.  Ashkin is also actively involved with sustainability and his company has even developed a “dashboard” system to help businesses monitor energy, fuel, and water consumption.

Q. The new KFC used LEED as a guide.  How does this work and could you clarify exactly what LEED is?

LEED is a third-party certification program developed more than a decade ago by the U.S. Green Building Council.  Facilities seeking certification are awarded LEED points for constructing or renovating and implementing strategies that improve the building’s performance.  This means the facility uses less energy and water, generates fewer greenhouse gas emissions, has less impact on the environment, etc.  It also means the facility is cleaned using Green cleaning products and chemicals, which is now a requirement.

Many facilities, including restaurants, use the LEED certification criteria as a guide.  It essentially provides owners and designers with a checklist of how to construct a building or renovate a property so that it is Greener, healthier, and more sustainable.

There are different LEED programs for different types of buildings, such as new construction, existing buildings, schools, etc.  Is there a program specifically for restaurants?

Although there is discussion of creating one, there is not a LEED certification program specifically for restaurants or food service facilities.   The LEED for Retail program is often referenced instead because it addresses some of the same Green and sustainable issues that a restaurant property might encounter.  However, a restaurant does not necessarily have to follow LEED in order to become Greener.  There are many ways restaurants can become Greener, it is just a matter of starting the process.

Alright, so how do we start the process?

When I first started advocating Green cleaning more than a decade ago, I developed a 10-step program that any facility can implement to become Greener.  It is still used today and, because most readers are probably involved with existing restaurant properties, it can be easily adapted for their use.  These steps involve:

1.   Agreeing from top management down that a program should be implemented to make the restaurant Green.

2.   Create a Green Team that will generate support for the program and move the implementation forward.

3.   Create a benchmark.  As examples: check inventories of paper products, cleaning chemicals, plastics, and cleaning equipment and see what is being used and where environmentally preferable products can be substituted; look into recycling programs; investigate HVAC systems and water consumption; and note any existing problems in the property, such as indoor air quality, that should be addressed quickly.

4.   Develop a plan as to where and what items to address first based on costs, contracts, as well as health and environmental impacts.

5.   Get everyone involved.  Change is often met with resistance, but managers should explain to all workers why the property is going Green.

6.   Begin acquiring Green products and equipment. 

7.   Start using new Green products for daily operations of the restaurant; for instance, a waste recycling program.

8.   Implement training on the new Greener materials where necessary.

9.   Take responsibility for the program.

10. Communicate to staff and management how the program is proceeding.

The LEED program kind of combines Green and sustainable.  Are they the same?

They are related, but certainly not the same.  Green focuses on environmental and health impacts.  We use Green products to reduce cleaning’s influence on the environment, health, and natural resources.

On the other hand sustainability goes much deeper.  It encompasses these same environmental issues, but also considers products’ social effects, such as: if workers are paid fairly; philanthropy of the company; social equity issues; maintaining a close and positive relationship with the community; etc.

OK, you’ve clarified some issues and given us a 10- step Green program to get started.  But it feels like a lot.  Can you suggest ways to get Greener a little easier?

Sure, but also know once you start the 10-step program many of the issues will fall into place and not look so challenging.  I often suggest to clients the 3-bucket approach.

In the first bucket, place items that can be changed now at little cost.  The restaurant will have to purchase paper products, cleaning chemicals, and other day-to-day items.  These can be switched over now at little or no additional cost.

In the second bucket, place moderately costly items which can be implemented down the road.  For instance: switching to low voltage lighting; installing aerators into all faucets; or installing fixtures designed for low-water consumption.

The third bucket contains more costly items that can be changed in time.  For instance, a Chicago restaurant/club facility replaced a 50-year-old heating system with a costly, but very energy efficient system and is now saving $100,000 monthly on energy costs.

Any final thoughts or suggestions?

Yes…let your customers know you are going Green.  This is great PR because people like companies that are environmentally responsible and take steps to protect the health of their guests, staff, and communities.

Robert Kravitz is a writer for the professional cleaning, building, hotel, hospitality, healthcare and education industries.  He may be reached at robert@alturasolutions.com.

Article originally appeared in Restaurant Facility Business