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How Founding Farmers uses latest industry technology to implement LEED standards

The phrase Founding Farmers may conjure up images of colonial America, but the restaurants operating under that name are anything but old-fashioned. One of the tenets of the Farmers Restaurant Group is using the latest technology available to carry out its mission of “operating, serving and living green.”

There are currently two Founding Farmers restaurants; one in downtown Washington, D.C. (three blocks from the White House) and the other in Potomac, Maryland. A third, Farmers, Fishers & Bakers, is on the brink of opening in the Washington Harbour complex in Georgetown.

The upscale casual restaurants stock their kitchens and bars with ingredients direct from sustainable farms, offering “classic, heartland-inspired dishes” such as Fried Green Tomatoes topped with goat cheese and Southern Pan-Fried Chicken and Waffles.

They ‘ve also earned LEED certification for the green orientation they’ve incorporated into their design and operations.

LEED Certification

Pursuing LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification is not for the faint at heart. A scorecard details hits or misses in lighting, electrical, heating, material & resources (i.e., how much of your building comes recycled content), indoor environmental quality, water efficiency and design innovation, with credits given for each requirement met; there are 69 different credits that can be accrued toward certification. For basic certification, a business needs between 21-26 credits; for platinum, the highest level attainable, between 45-57 credits are required.

 “To meet the minimum requirements, you need to design with all of these types of considerations in mind, while ultimately remembering that function drives everything,” acknowledges Lara Hardcastle, vice president and Founding Farmers’ project manager for all three restaurants.

“We need space for operationally recycling and composting, for example,” adds Hardcastle. “Water efficiency is a major part of every kitchen and can create some design and space challenges related to LEED standards. We use energy-efficient appliances throughout our kitchen and office—all our plumbing fixtures have flow regulators—which reduce our usage of water and energy. We have to design the space for Energy Star appliances, specifically hoods, which tie into the HVAC needs and play into LEED standards.”

Technology is used on the restaurants’ hoods to detect the amount of heat coming off the appliances and adjust it to accommodate the heat flow. FF operates them at a percentage of full force based on current demand, which results in energy savings. The technology is also used for refrigeration to defrost and hold temperatures. All HVAC appliances are programmable for occupied vs. non-occupied space to maximize efficiency. 


 “In the mid-Atlantic region and in Washington, D.C. specifically, electric supplier Pepco and counter utility Washington Gas have high-efficiency cooking line supply systems, which we are taking full advantage of,” she explains. These systems work better with Founding Farmers’ equipment, and also give the restaurants the ability to monitor the systems. Management can measure true energy use, savings and efficiencies. 

High-functioning Systems

“Our daily demands are high and continue for more than 18 or 19 hours a day, so all the systems have to work well together, as efficiently as possible,” notes Hardcastle.

Full-blown energy systems tie into all the lighting and appliances. These are a substantial investment, albeit an investment that pays off quickly, says Hardcastle. Older school methods require tighter monitoring of all appliances.

While FF typically doesn’t pursue lighting credits, it has met the minimal energy efficiency standard through the use of LED bulbs and natural day lighting. “The LEED lighting standards are not conducive to a comfortable and enjoyable restaurant environment, and they’re often just not flattering,” says Hardcastle.

She continues, “LEED lighting standards are for commercial interior standards—not really lovely ambient lighting that is suited to restaurants, or those that meet our overall architecture/design brand aesthetic. Our restaurant architects and designers like to use a lot of ambient and non-direct light, which is difficult to do with the currently available lighting fixture designs AND achieve the LEED standards.”

Founding Farmers’ solution—using a lot of LED lighting—requires an expensive outlay. For example, LED lights in Washington, DC are $250 per foot, while a compact fluorescent light bulb is $6 a foot. While LED draws the wattage down and helps reduce the overall energy usage, the LEED standards call for far too many lights and watts to be used, so the restaurants compromise on hitting that particular target.

While its first restaurant is gold-certified, FF is going for silver moving forward. As more businesses look for the LEED stamp of approval, standards have become stricter.

One element that has gotten easier: finding compatible appliances to work with the LEED standards, as just about every commercial grade unit made today is Energy Star rated.

The challenge is finding a balance between “LEED and green operational standards and how it feels to sit in our restaurants,” says Hardcastle. At every turn decisions have to be made regarding guest comfort vs. LEED standards for a host of considerations, including energy efficiencies, fresh air, circulation levels, HVAC related items, as well as lighting.

It is more costly to construct a LEED-certified restaurant, although there are energy savings down the road. One major investment Hardcastle dreams of implementing is a pulper extractor for composting; it removes all of the water from food waste and leaves you with a dry foam confetti, so it doesn’t have the same unpleasant odor as traditional composting methods.

“Founding Farmers does tend to run a bit higher in its build out and design costs than if we had not been adhering to green standards,” says Hardcastle, “but it has absolutely become a point of difference for our brand and our company overall, and our guests have taken notice.”

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