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Archive for April, 2010

Apr 30 2010

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Greening restaurants

Restaurants will have to do more than change light bulbs; they need to grow their own food on site

Last month I spoke at the CHART Conference. Also known as the Council for Hotel and Restaurant Trainers, their annual gathering includes restaurant operators from around the country. Their impressive list of members include every family chain restaurant you’ve ever heard of, including Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Rubio’s, Chuck E. Cheese, Perkins, et al. The room was packed with a “who’s who” of lifestyle eateries.

I have to admit I was skeptical as to what I could accomplish here. After all, these chains are part of the sprawl of Suburbia and help it to persist. In addition, these chains are typically not known for either award-winning design or healthy food (with the exception of Chipotle, which was the clear standout in the room). What amount of information could change this industry to the point of being noticeable? I was delightfully surprised by the results.

As we discussed strategies on how to save energy, I’d discover they’d already done (or at least tried) it. Most of these lifestyle brand restaurants have already grabbed all of the low hanging fruit in terms of energy efficiency and water savings. They were far ahead of the rather reluctant hotel industry, which is loosely related and connected to this group.

These restaurants have gone far and wide to reduce their overall environmental impact. The results?: millions of kilowatt hours of electricity, BTUs of energy and gallons of water saved each year. Most of these companies presented to me an impressive list of energy efficiency measures. Of course, with that comes an equally impressive cost savings.


Some of the innovative strategies currently in use include:

• Equipment Power-Up Program: Appliances are turned on when needed rather than simply turning everything on at opening. This saves up to 20% of their electricity bill.

• Energy-Efficient Bulbs: Light fixtures are upgraded with compact fluorescent (CFL) and efficient bulbs; old bulbs are recycled. Another potential 15% savings on electricity.

• Low-Flow Dishwasher Sprayers: Low-flow sprayers use 50% less water, saving an average restaurant tens of thousands of gallons of heated water per year.

• Green Teams: Restaurants are supported with a green team who review checklists and inspect for opportunities to save energy, water and, of course, money.

• Add a “No Print” key: Servers are able to check orders and clock in without having to print a slip, saving thousands of trees a year.

While these measures are a wonderful beginning, it seems almost foolish to not be doing these things. Sitting in a roundtable, we batted around other ideas that fell into three main categories of sustainability:

1. Food
In an average restaurant, a third of the food is wasted. Some from spoilage, some from preparation and some from the customers not finishing their plates. Since the average food item travels almost 1800 miles to get to their customers plates, this indirectly accounts for an incredible waste of energy and carbon emissions.

Restaurants should send their leftover (but not spoiled) food to local food banks to feed the poor. Many cities are lowering the liability to encourage this, but it still hasn’t become mainstream.


2. Compost
Food scraps that are unusable as food (coffee grounds, vegetable peels, etc.) can be composted. This compost can be used to fertilize the landscaping around the restaurant, beautify the neighborhood or sold for profit. San Francisco’s mandatory composting program not only removes thousands of tons from the landfills, but generates revenue for the city.

3. Growing food on site
Since food and fuel costs continue to rise, restaurants can explore growing certain foods on site. By growing their own food, a restaurant can use their compost, create local jobs and add local flavor to their dishes. Obviously, only certain fruits or vegetables can be grown, but it is a great start. Trellis products such as Greenscreen can be used to grow certain vegetables while also shading the building.


Lastly, I read a recent story of a hotel in Denmark that asks guests to pedal exercise bikes to generate electricityin exchange for free food. Ideas like this one are a great trend toward connecting customers with the impact of their decisions.

You can view the slides of my lecture here.

—Eric Corey Freed is author of the new book Green$ense for the Home: Rating the Real Payoff from 50 Green Home Projects

Apr 28 2010

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Twitter and KBIS: How to virtually attend without really flying

I didn’t attend KBIS this year, and I really wanted to. I hate missing the excitement of finding products I can use, seeing the new trends and hearing the buzz, meeting other designers and taking in the sights, sounds and constant design talk that all say KBIS to me. However, while my company’s workload is steadily increasing, it wasn’t viable for me to attend, so I did the next best thing: I followed KBIS on Twitter.

Now I know some of you out there are making faces as you read this. I understand; I was one of you. What could possibly be the attraction of 140 character one-liners on what one had for breakfast?

However, once I dipped my toes into the Twitter world, I soon learned that Twitter is what you make it. If you want to shoot the breeze with family and friends, follow each other and you can. However, I’ve found if you follow other designers, architects, contractors, magazine editors, manufacturers and artisans, you have a fantastic way of keeping current with the latest news, learn what other industry folks are facing and, yes, get into KBIS without actually attending.

Here’s what happened: As KBIS approached, some of the manufacturers who were attending tweeted where their booths were. (Which I would have found handy if I’d attended. Not that I couldn’t look the booths up, but I might have made a note or two.) I also “heard” some of the pre-planning and quite a few tweets on what some companies were planning to exhibit.

When the show finally opened, I followed the hashtags (the numerical sign in front of a name, like this—#KBIS2010 or #KBIS—which links all the tweets with this tag in a group) from the comfort of my own office. For those of you still new to Twitter, here’s the best part: People take photos and link them to Twitter, which means I was seeing products and booths “live” along with the attendees—shots of sinks, hardware, glass and even dancers. I also heard some of the buzz (bronze appliances?) and even “attended” a panel discussion about aging-in-place and the latest trends.

Now you may not want your news that quickly. But if you’ve gone in the past and know the excitement the show brings, it’s nice to be a part of it—minus the sore feet.

Until next time~


Apr 27 2010

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Is it ever wrong to do the right thing?

Almost 35 years ago, while still living a post-hippie lifestyle, I attended my first Earth Day in Los Angeles. I was working at one of the first 24-hour gas stations in California, where gas was just 25 cents a gallon. A couple of bucks would fill the tank of my mint-condition 1955 VW Bug almost to the brim.

I was invited to attend the day in the park by a young woman who wrote for an ecological magazine, a “commie rag,” as my father would say. She would come in late at night to get gas and we would talk about movies, politics and the world around us. Her passion—and main train of thought—was the environment and her involvement in the upcoming Earth Day festival. At the time, Earth Day had the overtones of a “love-in” of the Sixties with music and speeches, but instead of the war in Vietnam, the target had shifted to the environment.

The focus of Earth Day in 1974 was about the quality of our air and water, as well as the use of pesticides in farming and the toxic waste being dumped in the ocean. On that sunny spring Saturday in the park, with the sun shining down out of a clear blue sky, global warming and the thought of climate change were far from the minds of this eclectic group of people holding hands and singing along with Joni Mitchell’s ’70s hit (and anthem of the fledgling environmentalist movement), “Big Yellow Taxi,” which was one of the most prophetic songs ever to be written.

During an open “mic” period in between sets, my friend invited me to the podium to say a few words. I remember my stomach feeling like it was tied in a knot, as I had never spoken in front of a large group before. A light breeze blew through my shoulder-length hair and I can still feel the way the sun played upon my face. I don’t remember much of what I said that day—a blessing of time I think—other than these few words, “the future is deeply rooted in the actions we take today,” and from that moment forward I become an environmentalist.

Now, 40 years after the start of Earth Day, the movement is under attack from all sides, challenging and dismissing years of recorded data, attacking the credibility of thought-leaders, scientists and engineers. But the worst part is that the confidence of the American consumer has been shaken, and as a result, they have begun to question an idea that has touched their lives. Those who had begun doing simple things like recycling their trash, driving a fuel-efficient car, purchasing Energy Star appliances or replacing every light bulb in the house with compact fluorescents may now be feeling silly, as if they were the butt of a secret joke.

It all became very clear to me one evening as I sat at the kitchen table, helping my seven-year-old son with his Earth Science homework, and he asked me, “What if all these things we do around the house don’t change anything?” POW!…right between the eyes by one of my own. It was like being asked if I believed in God. I was dumbfounded for a minute or two but then, looking him straight in the eyes, I said, “Is it ever wrong to do the right thing?

I explained to him that we as individuals can make a difference. By the choices we make and the actions we take, we can make a lasting impact on the world around us. So yes, the things we do around the house to lower our carbon footprint, like taking shorter showers or changing out light bulbs or composting or bringing our own bags to the market, do make a difference.

So even if climate change and global warming were not an issue, I ask you this: Is it wrong to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and seek alternative energy resource? Is it wrong to want more energy-efficient automobiles or home appliances? Is it wrong to conserve and protect our limited natural resources? Is it wrong to want to make a difference in the world around us? No, it is not wrong to want and expect these things, but we have to take action and we cannot wait for the government or a group or committee for the answers. We, as individuals, hold the power to make a difference and by the choices we make and the actions we take, we can alter the course of life on this planet, now and for generations to come.—Kevin Henry

Apr 23 2010

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The secret ingredient to falling down eight times and getting up the ninth!

I always like to collect good quotes. Sometimes you run across some real gems. Here is one that seems to be very popular when I share it with a few people. It’s the one quote that has more to do with the secret to personal success and dealing with setbacks than any other I’ve seen. It addresses the one trait you will always hear from top achievers in sports, business, entertainment and any profession when asked what contributed most to your accomplishments. So here it is:

“Hard Work Beats Talent When Talent Doesn’t Work Hard.”

Not the quote you were thinking of? Many people don’t like to hear the word “WORK” as the answer. But it’s the only one that works best.

I was speaking to a group of managers and salespeople in Chicago, and one of the exercises was to have each person write down one idea they were going to implement over the next 30 days that was covered in the program. Some would stand up and explain how they were going to increase sales, get more face-to-face meetings or target the top 10 accounts in their territory using some of the methods we discussed.

As I listened to what they were going to do, I knew some of them would not be successful the first time they tried one of the ideas. So I told them after they presented their action plan to watch something I was about to do and never forget it. I walked back to the front of the room and jumped off the stage while doing a flip in the air and landed on my back. It made a loud noise and seemed to scare a few people…especially the president who thought I might not get up and finish the program. As I stood up, I said the following: “Falling isn’t failing as long as you don’t fail to get back up again.” I wanted them to know that the real “work” comes after you fall, make a mistake, get rejected, lose a deal…but it’s what you learn from that experience to come back with a new approach that really counts.

“There are no secrets to success: Don’t waste time looking for them. Success is the result of perfection, hard work, learning from failure, loyalty to those for whom you work, and persistence.”—Colin Powell, U.S. Secretary of State

Barry Farber