An Insider’s Tips On How To Achieve Sustainable Commercial Catering

Sustainability is a word hot on the lips of commercial caterers — and it’s not going away any time soon.

But what does it mean for a kitchen to become more ‘sustainable’, and how does it benefit distributors to do so?

Graham Kille is the director of product management at RATIONAL UK, an ENSE member.

He gives us his view on how to achieve sustainable commercial catering.

RATIONAL is the global market leader in thermal cooking equipment and is best known for its combination ovens and advanced bratt pans.


In this article

Graham’s background

Sustainability bad practices

What is sustainability in commercial catering?

How sustainable are commercial kitchen equipment manufacturers?

The cost of sustainable kitchen equipment

How distributors can identify and select sustainable kitchen equipment

Best examples of sustainable catering equipment

How to conserve water through sustainable equipment

The role of kitchen design in achieving sustainability

Certifications and standards to be aware of

Future predictions


Please can you start by providing some background information on who you are and the company you work for?

My experience in the catering industry began in 1982 while I was attending Highbury Catering College and studying for a City & Guilds chef qualification.

I started out at top London hotels like The Savoy and The Hilton before moving on to private member’s clubs.

By the age of 26, I co-owned a restaurant in Dorking with my wife before moving on to become the executive chef at Southampton General Hospital and later becoming the catering manager at Salisbury District Hospital, where I served for three years. I managed 70 people in the latter role, but I missed the food development aspect of my previous roles.

I came across a job advert for RATIONAL in 2001 and was immediately hooked by the fact it involved selling, so I decided to apply — and I’ve worked there ever since!

I started my career in regional sales before managing key accounts and becoming sales director. I then moved to FRIMA in 2013 to become managing Director and oversee the brand’s early development before it was amalgamated back into RATIONAL in 2017.


What have been the biggest learnings of your career to date, both in a positive and negative sense?

Around the time I finished catering college, the goal of every graduate was to work in London’s top hotels and restaurants. But realising this ambition came with a sacrifice, and required you to have thick skin.

Back then, you were expected to work long hours — 14-hour days were the norm and you’d often have pots and pans thrown at you. Thankfully, the environment has changed now, as it had to.

I also found hospitals to be challenging environments. But ultimately, my time in hospitals was an invaluable learning experience that gave me a great grounding in catering and people management.

However, working at RATIONAL has been a great experience, as it’s allowed me to utilise my experience of working in different environments alongside different types of catering businesses and people.

If you’re a caterer at heart, working with a market-leading solution provider for the catering industry is a great job.

RATIONAL’s focus is on delivering the best customer benefit we can, and being able to do that for the catering world is hugely rewarding from a personal point of view.

I always relish the opportunity to take someone’s challenge, show them how they can overcome it, and then see them be successful as a result of implementing our solutions.

For example, I worked with some of the very first LEON restaurants on the high street and introduced combi steamers to JD Wetherspoons. The equipment and processes that are the standard today were developed by me and the whole RATIONAL team through our catering knowledge and experience, and we continue to provide this support and service today.


What bad sustainability practices did you witness first-hand in your early years as a chef that you wouldn’t see today?

Wasted energy from cooking equipment being turned on and left on.

Heavy use of gas equipment was common back then. You’d light up a flat-surface cooker in the morning, and it would be on all day. So, wasted energy through extraction and gas equipment was probably the most common example of unsustainable practices.

We also wasted a lot more water, as there wasn’t the technology in those days — it was all down to the chef’s knowledge. With the intelligent cooking processes that exist today, a semi-skilled operator or team member can cook to a very high standard, not only in regard to the quality of food but also energy efficiency.

There was also a lot of labour-intensive work which has changed thanks to technology.

Food wastage was another big issue, in hindsight. There was no real control over the management of food — it was put in the pig bin or chucked out into the skip outside. So, food management has come a long way.


What is your vision for sustainability in the catering industry, and how do you see commercial kitchen equipment playing a role in achieving this vision?

Sustainability is a global issue for every person, sector and country, and everyone needs to do their bit.

Everything starts with awareness, and sustainability is a hot topic that the majority of manufacturers and customers within the catering equipment world are now addressing.

‘Sustainability’ and ‘carbon neutral’ have become key words in the decision-making process, and so many manufacturers have to sit up and take notice.

It’s taken some time for people to fully understand the requirements and, sometimes, even the terminology used.

Indirectly, manufacturers have been introducing technological advancements that have delivered energy and water savings efficiencies for many years. But now the focus is on the reporting of this equipment and upstream and downstream activities so that they can capture the whole lifecycle of the equipment’s journey.

Energy is one of the main contributors to business operators’ costs, so it’s key that manufacturers look to deliver energy-efficient equipment. The market is changing from gas to electric to drive this efficiency forward.


How do you think commercial kitchen equipment manufacturers are performing in relation to meeting sustainability targets?

There are challenges and constraints, but I think the larger manufacturers are beginning to get their act together. They have the ability, willpower, and financial resources to become more aware of what is required and on what they need to report and set their own targets and goals moving forward.

But it’s harder for smaller manufacturers to actually put that time, effort, and money into doing it.

From a RATIONAL point of view, we’re a global company, so we have to address sustainability head-on.

We have a sustainability team in our factories, and they’re working hard to produce detailed reports that are based on hard data and numbers.

We’re subsequently getting closer and closer to fully understanding what’s required, what we need to deliver, and how to deliver the detailed information required to our distributor partners and the wider catering industry.


What would you say to the distributors who are concerned about the cost of sustainable kitchen equipment?

Everyone has to do their bit to reach the targets, even if they don’t agree with them.

We can all see the effects of global warming not only in the UK but around the world.

There are many advantages to a distributor promoting sustainable equipment. Doing so presents their company in a very positive way and attracts more end customers looking for suppliers who understand how sustainability works and how it affects their business.

Sustainable equipment may appear expensive initially, but it often has much-improved operation processes and energy-saving capabilities. This, in turn, helps them and their customers to achieve their sustainability targets.

Distributors who fail to embrace sustainability will see a decline in sales opportunities. Many B&I and local authority companies have set targets for delivering sustainability, which is key to their decision-making process.

Distributors need to do as much as they can to educate themselves on this subject. That said, a number of them have already integrated sustainability policies into their business and are pushing manufacturers for information to include in their sustainability programmes.


How can distributors identify and select energy-efficient kitchen equipment, and what should they look for when selecting such equipment?

Distributors should approach the manufacturer directly, and the manufacturer should be able to provide them with detailed information about their particular equipment.

For example, information on energy efficiency, water usage, packaging, and recycling, all of which should be taken into consideration from the beginning. We’ve had requests for scope 1, 2, and 3 information, as well as information on revenue intensity and employee intensity related to emissions.

Distributors should also look for recognised industry-accredited sanctions, such as the ENERGY STAR label, which comes from the USA, and the ETL (Energy Technology List). The UK Government has set this up through Defra to help customers identify the top 25% of energy-efficient equipment.

Another important point for distributors to make note of is that manufacturers’ claims or marketing should always be substantiated with evidence.

If you come across a piece of information that you’re unsure of, you should always clarify this with the manufacturer first. Manufacturers should always be able to support the claims they make in their marketing material.

As an example, with our iVario Pro 2-S multifunctional cooking pan, we’ve created a comparison video between this and a conventional six-ring gas burner.

This video includes a live demonstration and breaks down the technology which makes up the respective pieces of equipment.

We also record the water, energy, and time savings facilitated by the iVario Pro 2-S, which are available towards the end of the video.


What are some good examples of energy-efficient alternatives to standard catering equipment, and what are the long-term benefits of using such equipment?

Nearly every manufacturer now uses LED lighting, and we’re using triple-glazed doors on our iCombi Pro units.

The use of multifunctional equipment has become increasingly common. If we buy a piece of equipment that can do three different jobs, this reduces the need to shift to other pieces of equipment and thus reduces the manufacturing, shipping and recycling requirements.

We’re also seeing the introduction of power energy monitoring systems. These systems use meters or algorithms to show the end user the amount of estimated energy, in kilowatts, that they’ve used for a specific cooking process.

Those examples are more general, but to give a specific example of energy-efficient catering equipment — the iVario Pro is 94% energy-efficient due to its patented heating technology, iVario Boost. This technology enables the end user to heat up the entire pan base to 200 °C in less than two-and-a-half minutes, and it far exceeds the technology in traditional cooking equipment.


As you’ve alluded to, water usage is a significant concern in commercial kitchens. What are your top tips for conserving water through the use of sustainable equipment?

There are so many ways to conserve water, and there is a lot of technology out there that can help with this.

When you load up a granular washing machine, for instance, it will fire little pellets at the equipment inside using a minimum amount of water. Slowing down water flow will, of course, reduce water usage. If an end user does this multiple times, they’ll make big savings in the long run.

They can also be more sustainable by slowing down the water flow to kitchen taps, using efficient ice-making machines, and using less water in commercial dishwashers.

Reusing water for multiple cooks is something we’re big on RATIONAL. For example, our iVario incorporates a technology called AutoLift, which automatically raises and lowers the food into the cooking liquid.

In the iVario advanced bratt pan, the AutoLift  will lower down the baskets and raise them up, and then you can cook again using the same water. This is clearly a much better option than a chef putting the pasta in, putting the water on, cooking it and then draining all the water away!

I’d also recommend that end users explore cooking ingredients via steaming. Nobody should be cooking vegetables in pots of water on the stove in this day and age.

In a combi steamer, you can simultaneously steam vegetables, which would be the best way to do it from a cooking point of view. If you did it traditionally, you’d have six pots on the stove, with cauliflower in one, the broccoli in another, the new potatoes and green beans in different pans, and so on.

But by using a combi steamer, you can cook each vegetable together without having to waste water unnecessarily.


What role do you think kitchen design plays in achieving sustainability?

Modern kitchen design is important both from the perspective of sustainability and retaining staff.

Unlike 20 or 30 years ago, chefs today have a choice in where they work, and we’re seeing a new generation of chefs come through who have grown up with the latest technology, and so they expect it. The older generation of chefs still cook in a traditional way and often require — or request — conventional equipment. We’re very much in a transition period in that respect.

Ultimately, if a commercial catering business wants to retain or attract the right type of employee, the senior stakeholders need to invest in their business with modern sustainable  kitchens. If you fail to invest in your kitchen and make it a sustainable place to work, you won’t attract the right type of staff.

Consultants and kitchen designers play key roles in delivering energy-efficient and sustainable kitchens. There are plenty of people who can design sustainable kitchens despite having never worked in this environment before. But, in my opinion, it’s important the designer has a sufficient understanding of the practices, skills, and flows in a kitchen, given the nature of their role.

Budget is another key consideration. Demand from customers driving energy efficiency is coming through, but designers have to balance that against the budget they’ve been given to design the kitchen, the cost of it, and what they can deliver within the customer’s budget. The customer often has expectations over and above what their funds allow for.


What certifications and standards should the reader be aware of with respect to sustainability, and why are these important?

The two main certifications to be aware of are BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology) and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).

Both certifications are related to sustainable building work and are centred around areas such as water efficiency, energy efficiency, and new kitchen design.

From a catering point of view, the ENERGY STAR and ETL accreditations are very important, as I mentioned earlier. Holding these certifications is a good way of demonstrating that your kitchen contains energy-efficient equipment.

So, too, is the ability of the manufacturer to supply their own sustainability information, whether that be a short overview or a 20-slide presentation which details their standards.


What future sustainability trends do you predict in commercial catering, and how should distributors and their end users prepare for these changes?

The drive towards energy efficiency by operators will shape the market moving forward.

Saving and reclaiming wasted heat and recycling hot water will continue to be of the utmost importance, as will recycling equipment at the end of its lifecycle.

We’ll also see increased usage of water-saving devices on taps and ventilation extraction systems that power up and down depending on the equipment used.

Reporting will become more prevalent, too — for example, reporting on efficiency and cleanliness, and reporting on the packaging and percentages of parts and how they can be recycled.


You can reach out to Graham at [email protected].


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