Prior to 2020, if a restaurant or foodservice operator were shopping for a healthy location, the classified ad might read something like this: well-maintained, good indoor air quality, and daylight. It would also feature low impact on the environment human health and supported by green cleaning.
When the potential restauranteur went to visit the space, there would be entrance matting which keeps dirt out. The types of things we have always looked at as the pillars of good property management were straightforward. Things like indoor air quality and clean restrooms have always been a focus. Covid has brought much greater attention to disinfection and hand hygiene.
As we look towards a redefinition, we are seeing a heightened focus on the disinfection of high touch surfaces, rather than just cleaning these surfaces. In addition, your landlord needs to be transparent with you about their cleaning and maintenance protocols and you need to do the same with your dining patrons. It needs to begin with new attention to hand hygiene for everyone entering your facility.
It’s interesting in the past that only people worked in facilities maintenance understood what it meant. The public, including your restaurant or cafeteria’s guests, are now interested in air quality. Trust me, a year and half ago, very few people knew that IAQ stood for Indoor Air Quality.
We’ve been focused on helping to support green buildings for several years. I am finding today that many of our customers want to understand more. A green building holistically addresses several factors from the architecture, the building engineering, energy consumption, water consumption and wastewater disposal. It also includes how the basic waste that’s generated in the building and how that is minimized and disposed of. Believe it or not, it even includes the landscaping and the need for eliminating irrigation and use of fertilizers. This is called xeriscape landscaping.
The next item is crucial for the foodservice operator with an eye of staffing. Green today now deals with how close the building is to public transportation, to minimize the cars on the road. When you’re thinking about New York City and office buildings or restaurants, is it close to the Subway or a bus stop, or can it be easily accessed with a bike or a walk?
So, this new definition of a green building is now much more than green cleaning. That’s actually just a very small, albeit important part of it. Green building attributes include the building’s engineering, how the building functions, and where it fits in the physical environment.
For a number of years, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification was a priority. It has always been a big thing for construction and architecture. However, we get involved with LEED operations and maintenance, which is how organizations maintain an existing structure to make it a green building. It’s also important to take a look at some of the new certifications that have emerged. The WELL Building certification focuses a bit more on human health than LEED does. Then there are industry specific associations, that have green rating systems, for verticals including hotels and schools.
There’s no question as we move into the Post-Pandemic era that with LEED, WELL and even GBAC (Global Bio Risk Advisory Council) that building credentialing will become a priority for tenants as they shop for new retail and commercial space. It’s interesting that the GBAC program is predominantly focused on disinfection, infection prevention and recovery from an outbreak. They have found their sweet spot with larger facilities including arenas, airports, university buildings and large resorts.
The other interesting discussion over the past year is getting comfortable with the differences between “Green” and “Clean”. They do go hand-in-hand but in the context of a facility or a place of business, typically, green is more focused on the natural environment. Does it have components that help protect human health? With clean, it is truly focused on human health, right including the preventing of infection, foodborne illness as well as appearance and maintenance.
Regardless of certification, clean air needs to be a priority for a restaurant or foodservice operator. The first strategy is a simple optimization of your HVAC system. It should begin by having a certified HVAC professional or facilities manager inspect and the airflow by pulling in as much outdoor air as possible rather than just recycling indoor air. The next step is to make sure that you are working with MERV-13 filtration to maximize the removal of infectious particles including the Coronavirus pathogens. The key is to make sure that those filters are changed on a regular basis.
Another simple approach is a portable HEPA cleaner that are plug and play. The key with those is to make sure you find out what the Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR) is for the system so that you know how many units you need for your restaurant’s dining space. Also, it’s important to understand the height of ceilings. The most expensive technology is an Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation (UVGI) System. It uses a low wave ultraviolet light to kill inactivate germs that are in the air. It’s much more oriented in a room with very high ceilings. It can be very expensive to maintain with the mercury in the UV bulbs. You also need to make sure that the ceiling fans are blowing up and not down. Keep in mind to with good weather, nothing replaces opening the windows and doors in the restaurant and letting the fresh air in.
Finally, with the return of your patrons, the restrooms become crucial to your Green and Clean goals. Keep the bathroom doors closed and even think about adding lids on toilets with signage to ask folks to shut lids before flushing. We also suggest shutting off or removing those hand dryers that blow pathogens right up people’s noses. It’s amazing that most people simply don’t scrub their hands properly. We like the back-to-basics of paper towels. Don’t forget to double check that the HVAC system is working properly in the restrooms as well. The goal is to eliminate the expulsion of air from the restroom into your kitchen or dining room.
Bottom line is even with the end of the Pandemic, there are always going to be common cold, flu and other types of noroviruses. With a smart investment, into some of the strategies, we’ve discussed and even something as simple as opening the door and letting the fresh are in, you will make Green and Clean an ongoing key to your restaurant’s recipe for success.