Green Building: Doing Well By Doing Good

Restaurant Construction | AMS Contractors, Inc. | Monroe, North Carolina

It is impossible to pick up a paper or tune in to the news without some mention of the environment and sustainable practices and design. No matter which side of climate change debate you are on, protecting the environment is in the public consciousness. In fact, sustainable practices and environmentally-friendly design are factors in many buying decisions. The restaurant and food service industry is no exception. Public opinion is shifting toward making environmentally responsible buying choices based on sustainability and green practices. More than half of customers will not buy from brands that fail to meet their social and environmental obligations. 

The good news is that it is getting easier to build and operate a restaurant using green techniques than it was just a few years ago. More companies are designing highly efficient kitchen equipment and the building industry is making huge strides in materials and fixtures that are environmentally friendly and energy efficient. While it may be more expensive initially to build green, the savings in the lifecycle costs of building and operating a restaurant can be substantial. Here are some considerations as you plan to begin reaping the benefits of green building for your restaurant project.

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Healthy Kitchens

Food trends are moving toward using fresh, local ingredients and are including gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan choices, rather than serving processed foods . This requires more scratch and in-house cooking so energy needs, prep space, and refrigerated space needs increase. Some restaurants are even including front-of-house displays for ingredients and cooking areas that are visible to patrons. Technology is improving the energy efficiency of kitchen equipment and machines that reduce utility costs. While new equipment is more expensive than used equipment, the savings in operating costs and the reliability factor can pay off in the long run.  

Reducing Hazardous Chemicals

Both in the building of a restaurant and in the day-to-day operation, potential chemical pollution is a concern and plans to reduce exposure can be addressed early in the design phase. By using more natural materials in the structure and finishes the effects of chemicals being released into the atmosphere can be reduced. Modern paints emit far fewer volatile chemicals and have greater color coverage capability. Petroleum-based fabrics, upholstery and floor coverings also emit volatile chemicals long after their installation. Consideration should be given to using more natural materials in these applications. 

Once operation has begun, using natural cleaning products will reduce the amount of harmful chemicals in the local waste water treatment systems and guard against health issues among employees related to their use.

Efficient Water Usage

Reduced water consumption should be a goal for every restaurant and is especially important in those areas of the country that experience water shortages. The design of plumbing fixtures has improved their efficiency in the kitchen. Using low-water or no-water fixtures in the restrooms has also proven to be effective. Some restaurants collect and recycle their gray water for uses such as irrigating the building’s plantings and landscaping. As with other improvements, the savings in water usage and the reduction of energy to heat hot water can offset the cost of the switch to more efficient fixtures.

Net-Zero Energy

Restaurant Construction | AMS Contractors, Inc. | Monroe, North Carolina

The high energy requirements of restaurants means any effort to increase efficiency and augment the standard energy supplies will improve the bottom line. The greatest savings can be realized during the design phase of the project when careful thought is given to sizing the building correctly. Once the energy requirements are set, exploring the use of geothermal energy for heat and adding the structure needed for solar installations and/or green roofs will reduce the reliance on traditional utilities. Green roofs have the added advantage of reducing air-conditioning costs in warmer climates.

Planning menu options and cooking methods properly gives insight into the size and quantity of kitchen equipment and can prevent over-buying. Fewer kitchen machines also means smaller space requirements in the back-of-house.


Consider using recycled materials in the building or fit-up of the restaurant from the beginning. An example is recycling salvaged wood for interior finishes. In addition to lessening the demand on forest products, the patina of the wood reduces the need for paint or other wall coverings. Recycled front-of-house fixtures can create a retro look that is extremely popular. And while not recycled products, using sustainable building products made from fast-growing materials such as bamboo will reduce the impact on slow-growth species of wood.

During operation, providing methods for recycling will reduce trash disposal costs. Food waste can be given to local farmers to compost and use to improve their crop yields. The compost can also be used back at the restaurant for the landscaping. 

Low-Energy Lighting

Whether a new building, fit-up or renovating an older establishment, upgrading the lighting to use low-energy LEDs will pay off. In addition to saving on utility bills, the improved lighting will help increase productivity and reduce accidents in the kitchen. Installing skylights or light pipes will reduce overall lighting needs and save even more.

Choose Experience

Working with experienced designers and contractors can ease the stress of introducing green building techniques into a design or facilitate a transition of an existing restaurant to a more energy efficient and profitable establishment. Choosing a company with extensive knowledge of codes and procedures is essential when it comes to navigating the local permitting and inspection process. And bringing the team together early in the process will have the greatest impact on costs. Fixing mistakes on paper is far less expensive than changing a kitchen layout once it is built.