Sustainability Series Part 3: Value Natural Resources

Value natural resources

Applying good cookery discipline to minimise energy consumption

Part 2 of our Sustainability Series

This article is part of our ongoing series about how Tante Marie Culinary Academy leads the way as a truly sustainable food business, resulting in our 3 star rating from the Sustainable Restaurant Association and recent nomination for the Sustainability Award at the Toast of Surrey Business Awards in 2018.

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Sustainability Focus: Value Natural Resources

One of the key areas identified as a priority within our Sustainability Policy at Tante Marie Culinary Academy is the level at which we value natural resources: improving energy efficiency to save resources, protect the environment and managing water usage to save money and reduce environmental impact.

There is a challenge here though. We are a business which aims to grow. We want to attract more people into the world of cookery, more students onto our courses and we ultimately want everyone to do more real cooking, meaning less use of processed foods and ready meals.

The impact of this is that our energy consumption will rise rather than fall as our business grows. How then, do we meet the target to value natural resources more and reduce our carbon footprint?

Equipment within our premises

Electric ovens

In 2013 we were presented with an opportunity to relocate from our beautiful old premises, a Victorian town house which we had occupied since 1967. While being a beautiful setting, the premises were hugely inefficient. The building was poorly insulated and had antiquated heating and lighting systems. Our kitchens were well equipped, but with appliances which had been surpassed by newer, more energy efficient ones.

Ensuring our business was sustainable, both environmentally and economically, meant embracing the opportunity to relocate and our bespoke new premises delivered immediate results. The lights all use low energy bulbs and are on sensors so they switch off when nobody is around. The building is well insulated and the heating systems are extremely efficient, with control settings to ensure they are only on when required.

These are simple, logical steps which fell into place naturally with the move, but the bigger challenge lies in the fact that every extra student we recruit means more energy being used in the kitchens. Another student cooking is another hob or oven switched on.

Cookery practices and self-discipline

Tante Marie students cooking

Addressing this means scrutinising everything we do and addressing areas where efficiencies can be found. In doing this we very quickly started identifying areas where we can reduce the energy consumption per student. The principle is simple: we understand that as our business grows we will use more natural resources, but by using them in the right way, we will use less per person.

Our Cordon Bleu Diploma students are prepared for a career in food to exemplary standards and there are important principles we focus on in our classes: having the self-discipline to do everything properly and always questioning how things can be improved or done better. Solutions that we have identified for ways in which we can use resources as efficiently as possible include:

  • A pan of water will come to the boil faster if the lid is kept on, resulting in less energy (be it electricity or gas) being used. Added bonus: this also keeps evaporation to a minimum, meaning less water waste and making the kitchen a more comfortable place to work
  • Washing up in a sink with the tap running is a big no-go area. Yes, our students do their own washing up as learning to be organised is part of learning to cook, but we always fill the sink, wash up, and if the water is still useable, leave it for the next person. Added bonus: by making the students clean up after themselves, they learn to be more efficient in their work and use less equipment, meaning there is less washing up to do. The students quickly learn to ask themselves, “Can I weigh this flour and butter into the same bowl rather than two separate ones?” This in turn leads to less water and cleaning product consumption

Gas and induction hobs

Being prepared to make the moral decision

We recognise that the way energy is produced needs to evolve. Coal and gas are the enemy and wind, solar, tidal (and the rest) are the future which we must embrace. However, the infrastructure for renewables comes at a cost. We must all accept that we need to be prepared to pay more for energy if we are to meet sustainability targets. This means selecting supply contracts where there are options to pay a little bit more, but to recognise that the small financial cost can lead to a big saving, financial if we are careful as well as environmentally.

Continual monitoring, leading to impressive results

Every month we take water, gas and electricity meter readings and measure consumption against the number of staff and students using the Academy. Within the academic year schedule we know there are peaks and troughs but over the course of several years of monitoring we have seen impressive results: a 35% drop in consumption per student since 2008… and still falling.

As an educational institution, it is vital that we are passing on these good practices to our students, encouraging them to take responsibility for their individual actions so that when they leave us to go on to exciting new jobs and set up their own businesses, these good practices will be carried forward too. The targets are not only about reducing monetary cost and wastage, but also environmental impact to ensure a sustainable future.

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