Clean, lean energy: Environmental guidelines find widespread acceptance

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A few months ago, I mentioned the role of energy consumption and power resources when adding more diverse offerings at the concession stand. This topic is a big one and deserves some consideration of its own. The movement towards clean and efficient energy has affected all commercial operations, and the cinema industry is no exception. The consumption and cost of energy for a theatre operation is a significant expense and one that theatres are finding ways to reduce.

Food preparation requires a significant amount of energy in both residential and commercial buildings. Energy use increases significantly for food operations that require refrigeration, temperature-specific preparation, and ventilation. These have all become part of the theatre concession stand with product diversity and they have increased the cost of energy at the theatre.

This topic is not unique to the theatre industry—it is a global conversation. The desire for both clean and efficient energy has created many new standards and rating systems, alternative energy sources, and heavily funded research into future solutions.

Some of these initiatives are already affecting theatre operations and should be considered when building a theatre or remodeling a cinema in order to provide a better customer experience through an expanded food operation. There are two certification programs that can have an impact on a theatre operation, the Energy Star rating system and the LEED certification.

The Energy Star rating system is a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy, introduced in 1992 as a voluntary labeling program to identify and promote energy-efficient products to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The program started with computers and monitors and has now extended to major appliances, electronics, lighting, and commercial and industrial buildings. Its application to a theatre operation is fairly widespread but also very concentrated in the equipment that is installed for food preparation.

Higher-rated Energy Star food equipment uses less energy and reduces operational costs. Moreover, the use of Energy Star-rated equipment can reduce cost and taxes on the actual purchase of the equipment. Mark Haney of Proctor Companies reports “widespread” acceptance of the Energy Star system by his theatre clients. He observes, “There was a time that the system was more of a guideline, but today it is considered a necessity by everyone.” Installing as much concession equipment as possible with a high Energy Star rating is not really a luxury anymore, it has become standard operating procedure.

While the Energy Star system is growing in size and scope and being applied to fundamental construction material, the LEED certification is the larger program that architects and construction companies participate in. LEED stands for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” and is a Green Building Rating System introduced and overseen by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). The USGBC is a non-profit organization committed to the promotion of energy-saving green buildings and has successfully introduced the LEED program, which now enjoys global recognition.

The LEED program is basically a point system with levels of achievement which many government organizations have come to recognize and which incentivize compliance. For example, the city of Cincinnati, Ohio provides an automatic 100% real property tax exemption of the assessed property value for newly constructed or rehabilitated commercial or residential properties that earn a minimum of LEED certification. That’s right—invest money to save money through energy conservation. That is the basis of LEED. The LEED program is not without its critics, including the position that it doesn’t go far enough to promote the efficient deployment of sustainable energy. But it has created a starting point for “green” building standards and every new building or remodel considers the LEED point system for certification and the accompanying tax benefits.

A theatre is a significant commercial operation that leaves a footprint in the community that it serves. That footprint can be a positive one. It takes commitment and vision both from the operator and its partners. While not alone in this endeavor, Haney states that Proctor’s company position is to introduce energy-efficient designs and products to their clients. He adds, “At least half of our clients want to know how they can save money by cutting energy costs”—and the other half are going to benefit just as well from Proctor’s vision. The company has introduced LEED-certified countertops made from completely recycled paper product embedded in resin to be waterproof, and moved from florescent lighting to LED lighting. He states, “We have invested our time into delivering better products to our clients that save energy and still achieve the desired value and effect.”

The ability of the theatre operation to be energy-conscious and efficient continues to grow with the introduction of new materials, new processes and new equipment. The choice is one that must be analyzed for both immediate and future return on investment in both capital and non-capital expenditure. But organizations are in place to help, and construction companies are heeding the call and delivering solutions. The days when these were just “suggestions” are really behind us. It is up to the operation to find the most efficient methods to build and operate as the overall global call for clean, lean energy continues to grow.

Please send any comments to Anita Watts at anitaw@reactornet.com.