Serving Up Sustainability

by Nick Conklin LEED AP

Reducing the environmental impact in a restaurant can be a challenge. Yet with cooktops and ovens running constantly, other machines in operation, and people constantly coming and going, just greening an HVAC system helps. So, that’s where Yum! Brands started.

Yum! Brands Inc., parent company of such restaurants as KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Long John Silver’s and A&W All-American Food Restaurants, is committed to corporate social and environmental responsibility. To that end, the company constructed its first LEED Gold building: a KFC-Taco Bell restaurant in Northampton, Mass.

From the start of the design process, KFC project architect Jonathan Balas, AIA, LEED AP, aimed to achieve LEED Gold certification for the new restaurant. Balas wanted the restaurant to be a testing lab in order to study green technologies and approaches to reduce the company’s environmental impact. Yum! Brands’ project goals included reducing water, energy, waste and carbon dioxide emissions along with leveraging the opportunity to educate customers and employees about sustainability.

In addition to drawing on numerous energy-saving technologies, including a solar wall for preheating outdoor air, Balas asked his engineering consultants to recommend an HVAC system that would help reduce the building’s carbon footprint and earn LEED credits in the areas of energy, atmosphere and indoor environmental air quality control.

“The Mitsubishi VRF system used in the project is very effective because it requires less ductwork, the small outdoor unit tucks in easily on the rooftop, provides outstanding indoor air quality, is energy-efficient and is extremely quiet,” Balas says.

Scott Nellis, founder of Sunshine Heating and Air Conditioning, Schenectady, N.Y., has been installing HVAC systems all over New England — exclusively in quick-service restaurants — for the past 32 years. Since the Northampton unit was his first experience with Mitsubishi VRF systems, he was flown to Dallas for a Mitsubishi training class.

Energy, Environmental and Economic Initiatives

The Northampton KFC-Taco Bell was designed to reduce its carbon footprint, focus on water conservation and quality, and to incorporate sensible building materials and resources use. For example, the restaurant features a solar air-heating system that uses the sun’s energy to heat ventilation air, substantially reducing traditional heating fuel expenses and carbon dioxide emissions.

Invented by Conserval Engineering Inc., the SolarWall technology is designed to be maintenance free and long lasting. The KFC-Taco Bell SolarWall system should displace more than 9 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and is estimated to produce approximately 100 million BTUs of thermal energy per year, according to Yum! Brands.

The restaurant also uses a lighting control system to maximize the use of natural light; LED lights were utilized where feasible inside the restaurant, in the parking lot and on signage. In addition to energy-efficient kitchen and building equipment, the purchase of renewable energy credits also minimizes the restaurant’s carbon footprint.

Many of the materials used to build the green restaurant, such as countertops and building insulation, contain recycled content, and the wood used during construction was sustainably harvested. Water conservation is addressed through low-flow fixtures as well as harvested rainwater for irrigation. The restaurant composts and recycles waste, including enhanced cooking-oil reclamation.

Patrons driving hybrid cars receive preferred parking, and a bike path connects to the parking lot. Through a variety of initiatives, both employees and visitors are educated on sustainable design at this new KFC-Taco Bell.

“We’re thrilled that the Northampton KFC-Taco Bell has been granted LEED Gold certification,” Balas says. “The certification fuels our passion and commitment to researching green building solutions and sets an example of what is possible for the restaurant industry. This building is our first step in this important effort.”  

For more information about the KFC-Taco Bell experimental green building, please visit


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