Elephants Delicatessen has been a pioneer since it was founded in 1979 as one of the earliest providers of gourmet food in the Pacific Northwest. Now with three retail locations and their central kitchen in SE Portland, they continue their pioneering role by demonstrating the highest levels of energy efficiency wherever possible and melding energy conservation with an overall program of commitment to the environment in all aspects of their business. Their business includes a complete menu of take-out food, full serve and drop off catering, sack and box lunch delivery, and gourmet food baskets and gifts. The flagship location has a full cocktail bar, Private Garden Room, for private dining, and a wide assortment of cheeses, a wood-fired pizza oven, grill, house-made breads, sandwiches, salads, and desserts. The company has a staff of 164 spread throughout four locations.
"We started out through little initiatives. For example, many years ago we got into composting," says CEO Anne Weaver. At that time food waste was taken to a compost station in Washington State until enough local customers made it possible to build a nearby station. Other company practices include using a box lunch container for all their catering and take-out uses that is 100% biodegradable, compostable, or fully recycled content.
Energy cost savings is another on-going program where Elephants takes steps whenever possible to gain efficiencies. "We started with 'Putting Energy into Profits: ENERGY STAR Guide for Restaurants,' (1.1MB)" says Ms. Weaver. "It was very effective because it offered practical advice." The accounting department and kitchen leads used Portfolio Manager to measure and track their energy usage and help the organization determine an energy management plan. Energy Trust of Oregon, Inc., did a walk-through of the facilities and provided an analysis. With financial support from Energy Trust, Elephants Delicatessen undertook a lighting conversion that replaced their T12 fluorescent fixtures with new T8 fixtures and installed CFLs for a 50% saving in lighting cost and an ROI of only 1.2 years. Elephants Deli has no incandescent lighting. In addition, outdoor lighting is on a timer, and non-emergency lights are shut off each night.
Another of Elephants Deli's contributions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a commitment to use 100% wind power produced by Northwest wind farms from Portland General Electric (PGE) to power their 9,000 square-foot flagship store and 13,000 square-foot commissary. "Our staff is enthusiastic and it helps us set an example for our customers and other area businesses," Ms. Weaver adds. This purchase of clean wind power offsets 426 tons of carbon dioxide annually from the environment, which can be compared to removing 71 cars from the road for one year or removing 53.7 homes from the electric grid for one year. "As a green source customer we're using electricity from renewable resources and reducing our reliance on fossil fuels," Ms Weaver states.
According to Ms. Weaver, Elephants Deli uses ENERGY STAR qualified products when the life span of existing equipment expires. In the kitchen, refrigerators, freezers, and ovens have all been replaced with ENERGY STAR qualified products. New gas convection ovens and a high-efficiency freezer were purchased with help from Energy Trust of Oregon.
Ms. Weaver admits that like most small business, a sweeping replacement of everything is virtually impossible. "Where we cannot replace we have made efforts to conserve," she says. "We have annual scheduled maintenance, we've examined our cooking practices and close-the-door practices and eliminated stand-by times on equipment." Ms. Weaver's list goes on: adding night curtains to display cases, recharging low refrigerant, checking and setting defrost cycles, installing strip curtains in walk-ins, keeping equipment as clean as possible, fixing leaks of all kinds, and even hiring a handy man to assist them in everything from fixing leaks to improving efficiency across the board. According to Ms. Weaver, the ENERGY STAR technical support found at www.energystar.gov/smallbiz has been an important resource in decision making and background information.
Elephants Delicatessen's commitment to providing sustainable food service is designed to serve as an example to other businesses of what can be accomplished and the positive impact it can have. The education process begins with their website, www.elephantsdeli.com which contains detailed information on their practices and highlights local purveyors. Elephants Deli hosts Earth Dinners serving nothing but locally harvested food in an effort to educate the community on the benefits of eating local produce. Ms. Weaver toots the green horn on the radio, in print ads, and in articles written about the firm's efforts.
Internally, a Green Team has the responsibility of educating staff on practices, so the staff can share information with the customers. Posters from the Office of Sustainable Development are used at all locations to promote composting and recycling. Customers receive their food, silverware, and plates with messaging on the benefits of the materials used. Employees are required to use computer power management settings and to turn off monitors after a set time of inactivity. Finally, employees are provided the opportunity to research various energy and environmental publications and bring forward ideas of additional steps Elephants can take.
"We've learned that all of our efforts have been good for business," Ms. Weaver says. "In the case of energy, we're saving money which is important for the bottom line, particularly with energy costs continuing to rise. But more importantly, our customers show us with the way they purchase and the comments they make that aligning themselves with sustainable practices is important to them. It's built loyalty and it's helped us grow."
Elephants Delicatessen estimates that they are saving nearly $1,000 annually in energy costs for the operation of their company. The savings of more than 15,000 kWh per year represents a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the CO2 emissions from the electricity use of nearly one and a half homes.
City of Portland
Energy Trust of Oregon
Office of Sustainable Development
Portland General Electric
City of Portland "No-Idle" Program
Oregon Department of Energy