Nando’s trials uncover the secrets to creating sustainable kitchens

Henry Unwin, sustainability manager

With 400 sites in the UK, serving thousands of chickens a day, Nando’s energy usage and menu impact is massive. In fact, 25% of its entire carbon footprint is a result of its chicken consumption and there is no escaping the environmental impact the business has.

But the chain has long realised its responsibility as a major restaurant chain and this year it is redoubling efforts to reduce the environmental impact of its estate.

In January it launched a new sustainability flagship concept in Cambridge which is acting as a trial site for kitchen and front-of-house modifications.

The idea is to monitor which initiatives, adaptations and new equipment works to improve sustainability and then to roll them out across the rest of the estate.

With 25 new outlets opening this year, and a further 25 being refurbished, Nando’s is looking to bring as many restaurants as in line with its sustainable model as it can.

The man spearheading the project is Henry Unwin, sustainability manager at Nando’s. Speaking at this year’s Commercial Kitchen Show, he said that success with sustainable kitchens is all about engagement.

“The big thing for us is about a holistic approach, integrated from the start. In certain places you can retrofit aspects of kitchens with kit but for us it’s how the kitchen fits within the wider context of the restaurant. There’s no point having amazing kit if people can’t use it. So it’s training people, getting them excited.”

Nando’s’ first sustainable concept opened in Leeds in 2009 and was a flop. But it has learnt from this and some of the successful ideas have been taken forward to current sites.

Nando's

Nando’s has been working with contractors and external experts to create sustainable kitchen environments.

“The biggest thing we learnt from Leeds is that people didn’t know it was a sustainable restaurant so the managers didn’t realise there were solar panels and when the inverters went they didn’t realise there was anything there. Since, we’ve worked with our contractors to come up with some ideas and then we have brought in some external experts,” said Unwin at the show.

He continued: “Cambridge has been running for a few months now, we’ve got loads of monitoring, all the equipment is wired up looking at the energy use, the water use, seeing how the restaurant is performing. The next bit of work is to analyse that restaurant and work out what we should take forward and what’s not going to work. The idea is to get our staff really interested in it. The big problem with sustainable kitchens is in the restaurant sector there’s a massive staff turnover rate so you can teach somebody about something and then they’ll move on.”

So what exactly has been going on behind the doors of Nando’s’ sustainability experiment?

Firstly, water. It is looking at using grey water in its business and is already harvesting rain water to irrigate plants in the restaurant. A constant process of monitoring water usage will help the site to gauge where it is being wasted and how it can be saved. It has also removed chemicals from its business through the use of a new sanitiser system.

Heat recovery panels behind the grill — we have got so much data that shows it works and the payback is really good”

Larger projects include heat recovery in the extract ducts above kitchen grills. This is to heat water for warewashing and also to warm the air coming into the restaurant to reduce the need for heating.

Unwin insists the numbers show it is beneficial. “Heat recovery panels behind the grill, we’ve slowly been doing more of since our Leeds restaurant in 2009 and we’ve got so much data on that it’s so clear it works and the payback is really good — you recover the cost of installing in a year or two. You need to have a few kitchens where the stuff has been working for a while so you can say it saves money but also actually works as a bit of kit.”

Sustainability initiatives

– Heat recovery from grills to heat water

– New sanitsier system and removal of chemicals

– 97 solar panels on the roof providing around 10% of the restaurant’s energy

– Hydropower and UK Anaerobic Digestion supply electricity

– Gas provided by UK Anaerobic Digestion

– Controls on heating and air curtain

– Rain water harvesting and using grey water

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