Sep 302008
Authors: Shari Blackman

Students in assistant professor Jeff Miller’s Food and Society class have undertaken the task of serving as “an extra pair of eyes” in some local restaurants.

The program is part of local non-profit UniverCity Connections task force for sustainable energy’s vision to create a Zero Energy District in the area surrounding CSU and downtown. Five local restaurants were selected to receive energy audits and be scrutinized daily for energy leaks.

“The most intense energy users are restaurants,” said Mark Wanger, a community volunteer for FortZED, as the Zero Energy District program is known.

“Because restaurants are so good at focusing on food and ambience, they often overlook energy.”

Wanger said the city’s ClimateWise program, which also works with the five restaurants, known as Trailblazers, is very good at making suggestions on how to save money and energy, but needs someone to be in the restaurants on a regular basis to notice where energy is escaping.

“If we can get more people with the right eyeballs in the restaurant, we can really find leaks,” Wanger said.

That’s where the students in assistant professor Jeff Miller’s Food and Society class come in. The restaurant management seniors work in teams to conduct energy audits, analyze data and train managers and staff on energy-saving methods Miller said.

This is their semester project for the class.

Jake Cousins, a restaurant and resort management major, is part of the team that works in the Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant observing food waste, trash and recycling habits.

Cousins said, “We take pictures of the dumpsters before they get taken away to make sure they are full,” a practice that saves the company money on trash pick-up, and results in less overall fuel use and reduction of air pollution by decreasing truck runs.

This is just one of the many ways restaurants can conserve energy and save money as a result, said Wanger, who uses Fort Collin’s Italian restaurant, Carrabas, as an example, pointing out that last year, when Carrabas management took on the task of looking for energy leaks, they saved $17,000.

Mugs Coffee Lounge is a participant in the Trailblazers Program, a project consistent with the restaurant’s interest in sustainable practices, says owner McCabe Callahan.

He recently agreed to have student interns observe the daily habits of his restaurant staff and provide free data on “what more we can do to retrofit” and how to present and market the restaurant’s green practices to the public.

Cousins said the engagement of restaurants in sustainable business practices helps with marketing and employee retention.

“People are proud to help the environment,” he said.

Staff writer Shari Blackman can be reached at

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