Industry Q&A: Wahaca’s Mark Selby on green kitchen aspirations

Mark Selby, co-founder

Wahaca is the first restaurant chain in the UK to be certified as a CarbonNeutral company. Since opening its first site in Covent Garden in 2007, it has challenged itself to minimise environmental impact and ensure that each of its 23 branches has the greenest kitchen possible, as co-founder Mark Selby explains.

What sort of innovation has Wahaca introduced to its kitchens to drive sustainability?

We utilise heat energy created by fridges and freezers to heat the restaurant’s hot water — we no longer have water boilers. Furthermore, our extract systems now all use the latest technology in energy efficiency, increasing the pull of the extract only as the sensors pick up smoke from the grills. Additionally, Wahaca regularly re-assesses existing systems and appliances in all locations. For example, we have introduced knee-push taps into all our new kitchens and our back-of-house lighting is all done on movement sensors now.

As the number of sites you operate grows, does it get easier to become more sustainable, and what lessons have you learned along the way?

When we opened our first site, we tried everything from using the old wooden dance floor to build our new restaurant walls to segregating waste into seven bins. Since then it has become a more sophisticated system. Every site we open, we aim to make it more carbon neutral and we’ve gone back to old sites to improve their sustainability, too. Adjusting a heater battery at the Bluewater Wahaca, for example, led to a 76% reduction in gas use.

Softroom_Wahaca_Brighton_AdamScott_04Are there any further improvements you are looking to make to this aspect of your business to become more sustainable?

We work to make each site more sustainable. We are constantly asking ourselves the question, how can we do this so we don’t leave a negative footprint on the planet? I’d love eventually to have tiles which capture the constant movements of our chefs and waiters and convert this to power our restaurants but at the moment the technology is not sophisticated enough — it will get there though!

You utilise the heat energy from equipment such as fridges to heat hot water. What sort of impact has this process had on the business?

We have reduced the average total energy consumption of newer sites (those established after 2013) by 36%. Further to this, Wahaca regularly assesses the efficiency of older locations and, by upgrading systems and appliances, we have decreased the average energy consumption of older sites by 15%.

Softroom_Wahaca_Brighton_AdamScott_01A lot of catering suppliers purport to offer ‘green’ equipment — how do you make sure you are using the most efficient appliances around?

We get SKA retail environmental assessments for every new restaurant, striving to continually improve the construction of our new sites and all our equipment.

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