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Decarbonizing Commercial Kitchens

Electrification is a good start, but reducing your carbon footprint requires more than you might think

By Ashlee Adams

TRUE Zero Waste Advisor
Head of Sustainability Performance, North America

With an increasing number of companies prioritizing environmental stewardship, we’ve seen a growing trend in facility operators looking to reduce their energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. This can be achieved through a variety of ways, but today we’ll focus on how to effectively decarbonize commercial kitchens.

The goal of decarbonizing kitchens is to achieve net zero carbon, or carbon neutrality, by reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Electrification of commercial kitchens refers to the process of replacing gas appliances with electric.

But electrifying a kitchen is only one step in achieving complete decarbonization. Several overlooked carbon contributors can impact an overall decarbonization strategy and reduce your chances of achieving ENERGY STAR certification. ENERGY STAR is a government-backed certification for energy efficiency that more than 39,000 commercial buildings, comprising more than 5.8 billion square feet have earned for leading in high efficiency.

And while not all facility operators want to earn an ENERGY STAR certification, most hope to achieve eco-efficiencies, and as it relates to commercial kitchens, investing in ENERGY STAR-certified appliances is a good start. However, to truly decarbonize your commercial kitchen requires more than just switching to induction cooking and upgrading appliances.

Here are a few undercover carbon contributors to consider when decarbonizing a commercial kitchen.

Food Waste

Food waste is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimating surplus food accounts for 170 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. That is the equivalent amount of CO2 annually emitted from 42 coal-fired power plants.

These staggering figures make it clear that decarbonizing commercial kitchens requires a deeper look into food waste management strategies. Kitchen operators can start by:

  • Conducting a food waste audit to establish a baseline understanding of the amount of food wasted and gain insights for right-sizing food purchasing practices and strategies to minimize loss.
  • Adopting and training staff on the First-in, First-out (FIFO) process to limit food spoilage by organizing inventory so that the oldest items are used first. This helps to both minimize waste and keep kitchen staff informed on what’s readily available.
  • Applying best practices in temperature control to ensure foods are properly stored to preserve longevity, confirm safe use, and prevent the growth of harmful bacteria that leads to food spoilage.
  • Leveraging new technologies to monitor and track food waste in kitchen operations and drive new behaviors to lessen the impact on the environment while lowering costs.
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Electrifying a kitchen is only one step in achieving complete decarbonization. Several overlooked carbon contributors can impact an overall decarbonization strategy and reduce your chances of achieving ENERGY STAR certification."

- Ashlee Adams

Fugitive Emissions

Fugitive emissions are leaks of dangerous gases, most commonly from refrigerants and natural gas. When working towards decarbonizing a kitchen, it’s important to assess the most common culprits for emitting fugitive emissions — typically leaky valves in refrigerators, cooktops, and coolers.

Maintenance of equipment and ongoing tracking and reporting using smart technologies and sensors is the best way to prevent the escape of these invisible threats. Investing in smart technology not only removes the guesswork but addresses fugitive emissions today and future proofs operational safety and sustainability.


These other emission causing outliers are some of the most obvious, but frequently overlooked.

Range hoods
While effective and important to use while cooking to ensure smoke and other toxins are removed from spaces, commercial range hoods are often left on for longer than needed, which consumes a lot of energy. Consider installing heat sensors that automatically turn on and off the hood exhaust fan or reduce the fan speed as needed. This saves energy both in the exhaust fan itself and in the conditioning of outside makeup air.

Upgrade refrigeration equipment
Replace legacy equipment that uses outdated R134 and R404 refrigerants with modern equipment that uses R290 refrigerant, which has natural, non-toxic, and free ozone-depleting properties.

LED lighting
This might seem obvious, but many commercial kitchens fail to upgrade lighting to LED — an easy and affordable switch.  

Energy provider
If your energy provider isn’t using renewable energy, your efforts to decarbonize and reduce your carbon footprint will be less impactful. This is a much larger consideration, but nevertheless an important issue to be aware of when looking to make sustainable change that leads to positive environmental impact.

How ISS Can Help

ISS is deeply invested in providing innovative solutions to help clients meet their sustainability goals.

To lead by example, ISS has committed to decarbonizing 75% of its kitchens by 2030 and formed a strategic partnership with Winnow, an AI-based food waste technology solution that helps kitchen operators understand waste volumes so changes can be made in menus, preparation, and behavior.

Since implementing Winnow in more than 170 ISS client sites, ISS has reduced food waste by more than 158,000 pounds — or the equivalent of approximately 179,350 meals and 680,100 pounds of CO2 — and saved clients nearly $300,000. To learn more about Winnow and ISS, click here.

From waste and energy audits to full-scale comprehensive kitchen decarbonization strategies, ISS can help you make informed decisions when looking to implement eco-efficiencies within commercial facilities.

About the Author

Ashlee Adams

TRUE Zero Waste Advisor

Head of Sustainability Performance, North America