With more brands thinking about their Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) scores and the factors that go into them, environmental sustainability is becoming an increasingly important concern for businesses, including quick-serve restaurants. A sustainable quick-service restaurant has value on multiple levels: It improves consumer opinions towards your brand, enhances the consumer experience in your store, creates a safer, more positive work environment for employees, and saves energy—and therefore, your bottom line.
Before the pandemic, being “sustainable” was definitely trending up in importance for all businesses and especially for B2C firms in the foodservice world. The virus, however, shifted priorities first to safety, cleaning, then to investing in delivery and off-premises dining options, and finally to addressing issues of labor and worker availability and satisfaction.
Now, as diners have transitioned back from heavy delivery and curbside to venturing out to their favorite restaurants, some eaters are returning to thinking about environmental values and choosing—or at least feeling— “more favorable” towards brands that somehow show concern for the earth.
“How different brands approach sustainability is part of the consumer experience, especially for younger people,” says Matthew Nemerson, Vice-President of Strategic Partnerships at Budderfly. “As people choose different places to eat out, they will start to look at the carbon footprint as part of the decision-making process. We encourage operators to market the fact that they are a sustainable location, regardless of what food they may be serving.”
To be clear: This isn’t solely about how a quick-service restaurant does its marketing. Quick serves use a great deal of energy—about six times the overall electrical load per square foot as other typical office environments.
Budderfly’s Energy Efficiency as a Service (EEaaS) model—in which the company handles and pays for every aspect of upgrades, such as lighting, HVAC, refrigeration equipment, water heating, ventilation, and temperature control—saves money and takes day-to-day maintenance woes away from operators.
The not-so-secret reason for Budderfly’s ability to invest $25,000 or more of its money for new equipment into a quick-service restaurant is the economic value of the dramatic reduction of wasted energy that a complete Budderfly upgrade package can bring. The reduction in energy use can literally pay for the new equipment if managed and overseen properly over time.
On average, restaurants reduce their carbon footprint by at least 25 percent by partnering with Budderfly. On top of that, the company returns 20 percent of monthly savings back to operators—which can be 5 percent or more off a typical electric bill—all with no upfront costs or risks. With skyrocketing labor costs, these savings can then be directed toward payroll costs and employee retention programs.
“Saving money can make you more competitive in so many ways. Perhaps by taking those dollars and staying open more hours,” Nemerson says. “The dollars companies get from working with us may not go immediately to the bottom line in terms of profits these days, we know that, but it may help you staff up your third shift or make sure your really good assistant-manager stays with the company.”
In addition to upgrading major operating systems like higher tech cook-lines, new HVAC, and better controlled freezers and refrigeration, Budderfly can get a restaurant’s indoor dining spaces up to snuff as customers return to indoor dining. For example, one of the easiest and most important things a restaurant can do is invest in eco-friendly lighting, which benefits both customers and employees. A quick-serve restaurant typically has three to four lighting “zones” that can be customized according to use. For example, storage, cooking, dining room, and drive-thru areas all require different lighting in terms of comfort and safety for everyone.
Another important factor is temperature control, which also should be monitored according to location. For example, the kitchen will likely be much hotter than the customer dining room, so managers need the ability to raise or lower the temperature in specific parts of the restaurant. Budderfly allows remote control and monitoring of temperatures in every area of the restaurant. If someone forgets to turn down the thermostat before closing, an alert is sent, and the system can even be turned off from Budderfly’s control center.
“We offer a 25 percent reduced carbon footprint over an entire chain of quick-service restaurants, from one store to 100, with very little time commitment by the management and no investment of the operator’s money whatsoever. These are obviously things that anyone with a major foodservice operation is interested in learning about today,” Nemerson says.
Budderfly works with its clients to design a perfect top-to-bottom comprehensive maintenance package, at a much lower cost that most current offerings. Preventative actions such as remote monitoring to detect problems when they are just starting and even to replace filters is key. If there is a failure with its new equipment, Budderfly handles all the project management and costs. “It’s in our best interest to have a successful partnership, and we cover everything we install throughout our contracts,” Nemerson says.
Quick-serve restaurants are part of a complex and quickly changing American food ecosystem, but it’s clear that one thing brands can do to set themselves apart is showcase their commitment to sustainability. Not only is it the right thing to do for the planet, it makes for happier customers and employees, saves money, and creates a “halo effect” that consumers love.
“Just as we had the revolution when brands began to show the number of calories on menu items, we think businesses will put all soon put their carbon footprint and ESG scores on their doors and maybe even menus in the future,” Nemerson says. “For a coming set of generations, businesses may begin to be categorized as good or bad according to their sustainability initiatives. Like it or not, carbon footprints will play an important part in that perception.”
By Davina van Buren