Commercial, Energy Efficiency, GHG Emissions  -  August 25, 2021 - By Better Buildings, U.S. Department of Energy

Decarbonizing Kitchens: Opportunities for the Food Service Sector

As the public and private sectors pursue organization-wide goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, commercial food service kitchens and restaurants face multiple challenges: identifying new opportunities to improve energy efficiency while adhering to changing local and state regulations supporting electrification and decarbonization. Gas equipment has long been the norm for nearly all commercial kitchen operations, but now many companies are exploring how to shift to lower-carbon options – all while providing a comfortable and safe environment for employees and customers.

Commercial food service operators don’t need to make changes all at once. Instead, they can reduce operating costs and benefit restaurant operations through a steady approach of upgrading to more energy-efficient equipment over time, developing a start-up/shutdown schedule, and implementing regular maintenance and cleaning schedules.

Many restaurants are already looking to the future of decarbonized kitchens, including The Wendy’s Company, a Better Buildings Challenge partner that recently joined the Better Buildings Low Carbon Pilot intending to find innovative ways to continue reducing the energy intensity and gas reliance of its kitchens. The company’s involvement in this Pilot builds on its previous commitment to integrating energy efficiency in both company-owned and franchisee-owned restaurants, as was demonstrated by their development of the Wendy's Smart Family of Designs.

The food service industry’s gas cooking equipment emits large volumes of carbon dioxide. According to the Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS), food service takes up approximately 2% of total commercial floor space, but accounts for about 6% of primary energy consumption. This makes it one of the highest energy-use-per-square-foot segments of the commercial sector and presents a significant opportunity for savings.

Industry professionals continue to identify more opportunities and strategies that can effectively achieve decarbonization in commercial spaces, including within the commercial kitchen. Ordinances and reach-codes with decarbonization goals have been placed into effect in numerous localities across California and other states with ambitious energy goals, including goals for electrification of commercial buildings. To meet these new regulations, food service representatives can take the following steps to support the decarbonization goals of their own companies and adhere to their local communities’ standards.

Energy efficiency can significantly reduce carbon emissions, and one proven way to reduce energy waste via increased energy efficiency is investing in ENERGY STAR® qualified equipment. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR® program has 9 separate Commercial Food Service (CFS) equipment categories, giving operators multiple options from different brand names.  

Fuel switching can also be an effective strategy to reduce carbon emissions through kitchen electrification. The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) estimates that just 20% of overall commercial cooking equipment uses electricity. There may not be suitable substitutions in every scenario, but when possible, switching to electric equipment can help reduce a restaurant’s carbon footprint. Even if the infrastructure of the facility cannot accommodate electric equipment over gas, installing ENERGY STAR® rated gas equipment can be an initial step in the right direction. 

Staff training is a lower-cost approach to reduce carbon emissions without replacing existing equipment. Implementing an effective start-up/shutdown schedule and conducting regular equipment cleaning and maintenance as recommended in the ENERGY STAR® Guide for Cafés, Restaurants, and Institutional Kitchens can help reduce carbon emissions and may prolong the effective useful life of the equipment. 

Another benefit to reducing the amount of waste heat through improved energy efficiency and electrification is a more comfortable working environment for kitchen staff. By setting decarbonization goals and taking these steps to electrify commercial kitchens, food service companies can reduce the kitchen carbon footprint from one of the most energy- and carbon-intensive commercial building operations in the country.

Find more resources and tools to help improve the energy efficiency in commercial kitchens on the Better Buildings Solution Center.

 This blog originally appeared on the Better Buildings website.


Better Buildings is an initiative of the U.S. Department of Energy designed to drive leadership in energy innovation. Through Better Buildings, DOE partners with leaders in the public and private sectors to make homes, commercial buildings, and industrial plants more energy efficient by accelerating investment and sharing of successful best practices.

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