Why Conservation Will Go from Altruistic to All-Too Necessary

In foodservice, making eco-friendly operational decisions has always had merit—whether it be an altruistic effort to save the planet or a more business-savvy move to appease consumers who prefer greener, more sustainable restaurants.

But today, more than ever, these decisions are becoming necessary for operations to remain profitable—especially when it comes to a commodity as precious as water, which is seeing historic rate increases across the nation.  

Why Exactly Are Water Costs Building Like a Tsunami?

The most apparent reason is a supply-and-demand effect in places like California, where they saw a drought in 2015 that was record-breaking, but not wildly “rare and unusual.”

When water gets scarce like this and foodservice continues to demand 15% of all commercial and institutional water use, the economic impact becomes clear.

But, even if nature shows mercy, other inescapable factors are in play as well—most notably a chickens-coming-home-to-roost scenario involving our nation’s water infrastructure system.

Largely neglected since being installed after WWII, the system is beginning to outright fail and, according to the Wall Street Journal, citing EPA estimates, the cost of code-compliant repairs is expected to approach $1 trillion over the next 20 years. That money has to come from somewhere.

Worse, as Vox reports on the same subject, the revenue base utilities need to fund these repairs is shrinking—in part because of the resident migration out of some states and metro areas, the Catch22 of rising rates causing residents to pay only portions of their bills, and the irony of less water use due to conservation efforts.

Why Is Foodservice in a Fiscal Flood Plain on This? 

If you run a restaurant, you know right up front:

  1. Water is critical to maintaining food safety and quality. From that standpoint, the cost is closely integrated with food costs, which are rising as well, and that compounds the dollar loss from discard and waste. 
  2. Foodservice has a thin buffer for absorbing something like a double-digit water-rate increase. The industry continues to expand, further increasing competition, while labor is as stress-inducing as ever, with minimum wage hikes and a shrinking pool.

How Are Successful Foodservice Operations Responding?

For those who haven’t already sharpened their focus on this issue and investigated their own unique water-use inefficiencies, the World Wide Web is dripping with water-saving tips for commercial kitchens.

In this area, like any nuance of the restaurant business, the most successful enterprises are those that can think outside the box (like the folks who use an air compressor to prep plates for the dishwasher) and research more thoroughly to maximize the reward of water savings without the risk.

For example, changing kitchen habits is great, but difficult in the face of high turnover. And reducing water flow on your dipper well is a quick savings move, but not if the reduction in sanitizing effectiveness results in a contamination scare.

The silver lining in all this? While the water-cost tidal wave looms larger over foodservice than it does other industries, if you can find solutions to save water—and they do exist—the impact on your bottom line will be larger as well.