Energy Conservation Awareness and Practice in Restaurants of Hennepin County, Minnesota

Article excerpt

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Introduction

In the U.S., greenhouse gases--carbon dioxide, methane, and others--result mainly from the combustion of fossil fuels in energy use (U.S. Department of Energy, 2011). Restaurants use large amounts of energy in their operations (Madison [Wisconsin] Gas & Electric, 2011) and are therefore significant contributors to greenhouse gas levels. Energy efficiency and conservation go hand in hand with reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE) and their effects on climate change.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) has studied energy use in restaurants, hotels, retail food stores, and convenience stores and found significant reduction in energy demand by employing energy efficient appliances recommended in their Energy Star[R] program (www.energystar.gov/). Private industry has also been active in promoting the benefits of energy efficiency (e.g., National Restaurant Association [http://conserve.restaurant.org/]). Systematically gathered information about energy conservation awareness and energy consumption and its mitigation among retailers, however, is lacking.

The environmental health unit of the Hennepin County Human Services and Public Health Department (HSPHD) built upon its regulatory relationship with restaurants, hotels and lodging facilities, and retail food stores to help these establishments identify sources of and means to reduce GHGE. Reducing energy use in this high-energy industry will help mitigate effects on public health. In Hennepin County, by far the largest industry within this group is restaurants (86.5%), which is the focus of this article.

The information obtained in our study will augment available information and can be used to guide educational and outreach efforts geared toward energy conservation, GHGE reduction, and cost savings for businesses.

Methods

Source Material

The purpose of our study was to determine if licensed restaurants in Hennepin County were attempting to limit fuel consumption and consequent GHGE and if so, how. Also of interest was the level of knowledge among restaurant owners of methods available to them to conserve energy and the fiscal advantages of doing so. A survey was the method of choice to investigate these questions.

Material for the survey was obtained from multiple sources and designed to cover a wide range of issues. The Web site of U.S. EPA contains information about the agency's Energy Star[R] and WaterSense[R] programs (www.epa.gov/watersense/). These programs test and rate the efficient use of electricity and water, respectively, by appliances and fixtures. The Energy Star[R] Web site also provided information on the availability of federal tax credits for energy-efficient construction methods and appliance use (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [U.S. EPA], 2011a). Another major source of information was the Madison (Wisconsin) Gas and Electric Company's study of energy use by lodging facilities, retail food stores, and restaurants (Madison Gas and Electric, 2011).

Other sources included the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov/climatechange/), U.S. Department of Agriculture (www.usda.gov/oce/climate_change/index.htm), and U.S. Department of Energy (www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/1605/ggccebro/chapter1.html). The environmental health unit of HSPHD also received valuable feedback from experts in the fields of energy conservation and alternative energy production.

A draft of the survey was pilot tested by two restaurant owners and their recommendations were incorporated into the final versions.

Survey Design and Distribution

Previous research suggested that preliminary informational postcards, multiple survey mail outs, clarity and simplicity of message, and personalized cover letters enhance mail-out survey response (Denton, Tsai, & Chevrette, 1988; Dillman, Smith, & Christian, 2009; Filip, Ming, Levy, Hoffstad, & Margolis, 2004; Fox, Crask, & Kim, 1988; Rea & Parker, 2005). …