Defra, Carbon Trust, AEA and industry leaders to slash energy use, bills and carbon emissions in commercial kitchens

Replacing electric combi ovens with gas combis and upgrading refrigeration cabinets to Market Transformation Programme (MTP) best-practice standards: these are just some of the ideas being explored by Defra, the Carbon Trust, AEA and food industry leaders to slash energy use and carbon emissions in UK commercial kitchens.

Over the last year, the Carbon Trust has worked with companies including Sodexo, Elior, Aramark and Caterlink to identify more energy efficient ways of running kitchens, with the potential to save £90m or the equivalent of 425,000 tonnes CO2 a year.

Now - in partnership with the Catering Equipment Suppliers Association (CESA) - Defra and the Carbon Trust are urging contract caterers and their clients to help prove the business case for new equipment and better operations and management of kitchens.

Defra has been keen to obtain better data on a range of catering equipment in sector segments to support UK government policy on the development of sustainable products. The Carbon Trust's Industrial Energy Efficiency Accelerator (IEEA) for the contract catering sector was a perfect vehicle to achieve this. The aims of the study were to gain key insights into the sector such as:

  • Process operations and energy use;
  • Issues and opportunities; and
  • Existing data available for performance assessment.
More than a quarter of the UK's carbon emissions come from industry and we've got to find new opportunities to reduce them. Our estimates suggest that over 80% of sites could replace electric combis with gas combis. The implementation cost is the additional cost for the gas combi assuming that the alternative replacement would be an electric combi. Such replacements across the industry would cost a typical site £3,000 but could have a 3 year payback, saving the sector £14m per year or 60,000 tonnes CO2 per year.

Al-Karim Govindji, Technology Acceleration Manager of Innovations at the Carbon Trust

Sodexo's participation in this study is fully aligned with the Better Tomorrow Plan, our sustainability strategy to 2020. It significantly raised our awareness and understanding of where and how energy is used in a commercial kitchen, and the factors that influence it. We have gathered new insights and data at a level we have never seen before; these are invaluable as we seek to reduce energy consumption and emissions.

Paul Bracegirdle, Sodexo's Environmental Manager, UK & Ireland


Refrigeration is the second largest user of energy in the sector and this is driven by the installed refrigeration capacity at each site. However, researchers found that energy use does not rise linearly with capacity, but drops off as capacity increases. This is due to the greater energy efficiency of the larger units.

Upgrading refrigeration single and double door refrigeration cabinets with energy efficiencies equal to the Market Transformation Programme best practice benchmark standards would give a payback of 1.5 years and could save the industry £13m in energy costs per year.

There are many reasons for variations in performance in kitchen. For example, the metering in three sites (corporate office, hospital and school) showed that there was a clear relationship between the variety and numbers of hot meals served and energy use per meal for refrigeration energy and cooking energy. It seems that the added complexity may influence energy use by driving up the amount of equipment installed and the way in which it is used.


Elior welcomed the opportunity to take part in this research to underpin continuous improvement in our environmental management system. At Elior we are committed to operate our catering facilities effectively and efficiently and the findings of this project will be used to improve training and practices.

Elior's Grazia Dal Fara, Corporate Responsibility Manager

We work hard to be as environmentally responsible as possible by serving fresh, local and seasonal produce, minimising waste, improving recycling and training our teams in basic good housekeeping, conserving energy, water and resource: but this project takes it to the next level. We are excited that the project report will not only enable us to be even more efficient for our clients but will provide the entire sector with enough information to make the right decisions to make a real difference.

Neil Fuller, Caterlink, Managing Director


Changes in the weekly number of meals served have no clear impact on the energy use at the sites. It is likely that other factors, such as the amount and hours of operation of the equipment, have more impact than the number of meals. Similarly, the weekly number of hot meals prepared at the study sites has little influence on the amount of cooking energy used. There is a similar picture for the influence of daily meal volume on cooking energy, refrigeration energy and dishwashing energy.


Based on the evidence contained within the report, the foodservice sector is now better placed to build a strategy with government and its agencies to bring about real change within the industry. Manufacturers can use this data to develop and market products that will reduce a commercial kitchen's energy consumption.

Keith Warren of the Catering Equipment Suppliers Association (CESA)


Innovation opportunities include use of sensors in extraction linked to variable speed drives that can automatically vary the fan speed with the cooking load.

In addition, a number of new business models are possible, including incentives for clients to invest in efficient equipment; caterers to adopt best practice in using equipment; and the transfer of energy management responsibility to the caterer with the installation of sub-metering.

Key Statistics

  • Contract catering covers the provision of food services to people at work in business and industry, catering in schools, colleges and universities, in hospitals and healthcare as well as welfare and local authority catering and other non-profit making outlets.
  • Companies providing catering services are estimated to have served 1,607 million meals through 16,583 outlets in 2009
  • Contract catering sites' carbon emissions are approximately 1,300,000 tonnes CO2 per year.
  • About 40% of the energy used in kitchens is for cooking with refrigeration at 28%, extraction at 17% and dishwashing at 5%.
  • The contract catering sector is also estimated to spend £292m per year on catering energy with an average cost of 18p per meal sold.
  • Replacing electric ovens with gas combi ovens would cost a typical site £3,000 but could save 60,000 tonnes CO2 per year.
  • Upgrading refrigeration cabinets to MTP best-practice standard could save the industry 56,500 tonnes CO2 per year but cost just £1,100 for a typical site.

View the report:  Contract Catering Sector Guide - Industrial Energy Efficiency Accelerator (PDF)

or visit the Defra website:

About Defra:

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is a government department in the UK. Defra makes policy and legislation, and work with others to deliver our policies, in areas such as:

  • the natural environment, biodiversity, plants and animals
  • sustainable development and the green economy
  • food, farming and fisheries
  • animal health and welfare
  • environmental protection and pollution control
  • rural communities and issues.

The Government is fully committed to raising product standards and encouraging consumers and businesses to buy the most efficient products available. Removing the least efficient products from the market remains one of the most cost-effective ways of reducing CO2 emissions, and benefits consumers and businesses by reducing their energy bills. Government is also committed to 'green' public procurement, seeking to raise levels of sustainable public purchasing across the public sector whilst recognising suppliers need a strong demand from us to provide more sustainable products and services.

Defra maintains an evidence base on energy using products across their lifecycles, supported by a consortium of technical contractors (sometimes referred to as the Market Transformation Programme or MTP). We work with stakeholders to harness their expertise to develop a robust evidence base for effective standards across product life-cycles and outcomes which stimulate innovation and eco-design. This contract catering study will feed into and improve our current evidence base and inform the development of future products policy.

More information on Defra's product work can be found on the website:

More information on Government's approach to Green Public Procurement can be found at:

About the Carbon Trust:

The Carbon Trust is an independent company with a mission to accelerate the move to a low carbon economy.

  • We advise businesses, government and the public sector on their opportunities in a sustainable, low carbon world.
  • We measure and certify the environmental impact footprint of organisation, supply chains and product.
  • We help develop and deploy low carbon technologies and solutions, from energy efficiency to renewable power.

The Industrial Energy Efficiency Accelerator (IEEA) is a £15m innovation programme designed to cut carbon, reduce costs and make UK manufacturing more competitive.