Many bakery operators are already demonstrating their commitment to sustainability by sourcing their ingredients locally whenever possible. Now a growing number of owners have taken their eco-conscious efforts to a whole new level by building their businesses–some from the ground up–based on standards set by the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and the Green Restaurant Association (GRA).
For the past two decades, LEED has been providing the corporate business sector with specific eco-conscious standards for designing, constructing, operating and maintaining buildings. Claire’s on Cedros Bakery and Café in San Diego hardly qualifies as a large corporation, but owners Claire Allison and Terrie Boley followed the LEED standards when they built their 2,800-sq.-ft. production and retail facility in 2009.
Their efforts earned them the highest level (platinum) LEED certification. Claire’s also was the first project in San Diego County to qualify for and be granted a reduction on California’s Coastal Commission permit fees.
Just about everything used in the construction of the bakery café–even the ground it sits on–was “reclaimed, made of recycled content or harvested from rapidly renewable sources,” Claire Allison says. The redwood siding, she notes, was sourced from Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified forests and is naturally resistant to mold and decay (i.e. low maintenance). More than half of the wood used in the interior structure of the building also was FSC sourced.
Exterior concrete blocks are made from 16 percent recycled content. For the interior, bricks were salvaged from a local park, and the insulation in the walls and ceiling are made from recycled denim.
Furnishings are crafted from wood salvaged from churches, schools and barns. And instead of dumping the construction waste, 75 percent of it was earmarked for recycling or reuse.
Landscaping also was designed to conserve resources. By using native and adapted plantings, mulch cover and timed and weather-sensitive drip irrigation, Allison estimates she saves more than 50 percent in landscape water consumption.
Building from the ground up is not always an option, but several bakers have turned existing structures into sustainable production and store sites that meet LEED and GRA standards for remodeling. Amy Beth Edelman and John Millard’s suburban Philadelphia Night Kitchen earned a two-star GRA certification with the installation of FSC-sourced hardwood flooring and use of salvaged church pews for seating when they doubled the size of their bakery café. Outside, a rain barrel collects water for the flowerbeds.
When Ben Davis was renovating Grand Central Bakery’s 15,000-sq.-ft. facility in Portland, Ore., he used 80-year old beams reclaimed from a barn. Not only are the beams sturdy, he says, but the wood also gives his bakery a warm color.
Michelle Ciccarelli Lerach also looked to recycled materials when she chose the accents and furnishings for her three-star GRA-certified Cups Bakery in San Diego. She is particularly proud of the long bar top made from recycled glass and dramatic backlit art wall fashioned out of recycled milk bottles. The floor is made from easy-clean pebbles and the tables and chairs from renewable monkey pod tree wood.
For the interior retrofit in her Macarina bakery café in a century-old building in Seattle, owner Leslie Mackie used FSC-sourced wood. Outside, the awnings are made from recycled material, and the front door handles are made from driftwood found by the architect, she says.
On its web site, GRA says, “waste reduction, energy and water conservation and recycling are the areas in which most restaurants save the most money and see a return on their investment.
“For many restaurants, it is actually more costly to make no environmental changes,” the site continues. “For some mid-size and larger operations, even some simple changes can yield a couple thousand dollars in net savings per year and for a smaller restaurant $1,000.”
To make full use of natural lighting and cooling, both Allison and Lerach installed large, operable windows. At Claire’s, passive heating from the sun is supplemented with clean, money-saving hydronic (pumped hot water) floor heating.
Sun and wind also are the energy alternatives of choice for some eco- and cost-conscious operators. At Claire’s, a total of 54 solar panels generate about 37 percent of the bakery’s energy. Covering the roof with indigenous vegetation also helps to maintain comfortable temperatures without using excess energy. For his Portland production facility, Davis has applied for a state-run solar project that would make his bakery eligible for a federal tax credit and a little more than $5,000 per year from the local utility company.
To support the development of alternative sources of green power, both Allison and Davis purchase renewable energy credits (RECs) from their local utility providers. Allison estimates that Claire’s RECs cover the equivalent of 75 percent of the facility’s overall power use. In Portland, Grand Central’s RECs “offset 380 tons of carbon dioxide yearly,” Davis says.
Allison says choosing low-flow toilets and waterless urinals instead of traditional fixtures has reduced her water consumption by about 40 percent. Sensor-activated faucets in the bathroom and a low-flow one for the kitchen’s hand- and pre-rinse sinks save even more water and money. Davis also installed a solar hot water system to heat water feeding the dishwasher at one of his locations.
After the renovation, Mackie retained much of her original equipment. But she did purchase one big item–a new gas oven that she had installed on the new site.
“Although the initial investment was quite substantial, this oven is much more energy-efficient because of its heat retention,” Mackie says, whose efforts earned her bakery a LEED silver certification. “My old oven lost between 30 and 40 degrees when we put the bread in; the new one loses much less.”
Not everyone can make such major structural and equipment changes. But something as simple as taking out the trash can make a big environmental impact. Since starting a full-scale recycling program following her bakery’s expansion, Edelman has cut waste in half, despite the fact that her business has increased by 20 percent.
Davis claims his waste management system is the best in town. “After recycling and composting, we can fit the daily waste from some of our cafés into a pickle bucket,” he says.
Recycling makes it possible for Four Worlds Bakery in Philadelphia to generate only “one small kitchen-size bag of trash a week,” according to owner Michael Dolich.
Dolich, Mackie and Davis send their food waste to nearby farms for animal feed. Allison sends her used kitchen grease to be recycled into biodiesel fuel.
For his wholesale accounts, Dolich has stopped using cardboard boxes and, instead delivers (via bicycle-pulled trailers) his breads and bagels in reusable bags, which are tagged with each customer’s name and returned to the bakery for refills. To avoid crushing his more delicate croissants, he sends them out in refillable plastic bins.
Whenever possible, Mackie also uses about 500 refillable plastic bins for her wholesale deliveries. Although there is an initial investment to purchase the bins, “recovery is quick,” she says. By eliminating the 24- to 30-cent cost per cardboard box, she is able to save about 40 percent on packaging.
Not wanting to sell beverages in plastic bottles or cans, Lerach faced a dilemma when customers requested water, soda or milk. Her solution was to make her own sodas from filtered, carbonated water and serve them in regular glasses for consumption in the café. She sells milk from a local dairy in recyclable glass bottles.
But walkers and tourists heading to the beach still wanted their water to go. To meet their needs and stay green, Lerach ordered recycled, refillable plastic sports bottles that, she says, “customers are much less likely to throw away.”
Cups’ customers who bring in their own ceramic mugs for coffee get a discount. To further reduce packaging waste, single cupcake orders are either served on a plate for on-site consumption or simply handed to customers who want them to go. Boxes are available on request and, Lerach says, most customers don’t even ask for them.
Cleaner indoor air
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), indoor air is three times more polluted than outdoor air and is one of the top five hazards to human health. Among the most common contributors to indoor air pollution are paints and finishes with toxin-emitting VOCs (volatile organic compounds).
To keep their interior environments clean and green, the LEED- and GRA-inspired operators chose finishes that emit no or low levels of VOCs. Some also have switched from chemical-based cleaners to natural ones. And Lerach found a service that uses natural pest control products.
In addition to their efforts to run green operations, Allison, Lerach and Edelman have tried to bring a little environmental education to their bakeries. At Claire’s, customers are invited to take self-guided tours of the facility’s sustainable design features.
“We used to distribute handouts to point out those features, but we realized that wasn’t very green, so now we have a huge poster mounted outside the building,” Allison notes. “We see customers walking around looking at and talking about these features and many tell us how happy they are that we’re doing this.”
Kids are the focus of Lerach’s eco-awareness campaign at Cups, posting “fun facts” about saving energy and other resources at their eye level to “indoctrinate them in a soft way.”
As part of a campaign to convince its community to go for the green, Night Kitchen has partnered with other like-minded local businesses to offer seminars and family-friendly festivals focusing on conserving natural resources.
For right now, Lerach admits, green products are often “substantially more expensive” than regular ones. But she doesn’t hesitate for a minute to spend the extra money.
“We vote with our dollars,” she notes. “Besides, someone has to be out front buying these products to encourage others to do it and create a demand that will eventually bring the prices down.”