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How To Make Your Shop Or Restaurant More Sustainable

Tenant Remodels That Are Better For The Planet.

The tenants we work with on restaurant and shop renovations usually have a million and one questions, including questions about sustainability:

  • What’s the most sustainable way to do my restaurant renovation? 
  • How can I make my shop as environmentally friendly as possible?

There are no quick answers. Tenant remodels, also known as tenant improvements, can include everything from insulation and ventilation systems to the lamps that glow in the corners of your finished space. When you’re planning a sustainable remodel, there's a lot to learn. There’s a lot to consider. 

There are also a lot of practical ways you can make a difference for your bottom line, the customer experience, and the Earth.

Let’s walk through the various aspects of your remodel so you can make your shop or restaurant as sustainable as possible.

Why Bother With A Sustainable Remodel? 

When your business space is sustainably remodeled, it can be more energy efficient, more pleasant to be in, and less burdensome on the environment. 

Renovating your space sustainably will also keep you from having to redo it again and again. 

How Sustainable Can You Go?

It depends on how deep the renovation is. Are you tearing it down to the studs and re-insulating? If so, you and your landlord may be able to address a host of environmental issues. Are you focusing on an interior redesign? You can still make key decisions to create a space that’s healthier for everyone. 

Before you make any plans or negotiate your lease, talk with the landlord and see if they’re willing to make upgrades while you remodel. If something is going to stay with the building, like mechanical equipment or new windows, they may be willing to make those upgrades now to increase the value of their property. Working in concert with your landlord, you can make long-term choices for the good of the property and the people who will be working and shopping or eating there. 

Alright. Let’s dig into several aspects of your remodel.

Ventilation And Air Quality

In the Covid era, you need an effective ventilation system to mitigate the spread of illness and keep the air cleaner. If the air system is dated, it would be worth it to find a way to upgrade. 

You can also make simple choices to invest in air quality, like choosing low-VOC paints. And, believe it or not, choosing surfaces that are durable and cleanable makes for better air quality — rough surfaces on countertops and tables can harbor mildew that gets into the air.

Electric Appliances

Residential properties are already switching from gas cooking appliances to electric; commercial will follow. Natural gas is a fossil fuel that contributes to global warming; switching to an all electric facility is the first step in creating a Net-Zero establishment, followed by on-site renewable energy. Combustion appliances and furnaces have be shown to have negative impacts on indoor air quality and occupant health as well.

As demand rises, more commercial electric equipment for restaurants, such as ranges and fryers, will become available. If you’re planning a commercial kitchen remodel, it’s worth looking at current appliance options to gauge whether or not it’s time to go electric.


LED lighting is one of the most straightforward ways to save energy. According to the Department of Energy, it’s “the most energy-efficient lighting technology” and “offer[s] the potential for cutting general lighting energy use nearly in half by 2030, improving resiliency of the grid, saving energy dollars, and cutting carbon emissions in the process.” 

LED lights can be selected to create the softer mood you want in customer areas with warmer color temperatures (2400k-2700k) and to more brightly illuminate areas used for food preparation or other back-of-house tasks. In other words, we’re no longer dependent on incandescent bulbs to create a mood. LEDs can also be on dimmers, which makes compliance with lighting standards a cinch. 

A note on fixtures: be sure they have removable bulbs, as opposed to those with integrated (read: can’t-ever-be-replaced) bulbs. When an LED bulb burns out, you don’t want to have to replace the whole fixture and toss the old one in the landfill.

Materials and interior design

Design the most timeless space you can. If your interior can serve you for years, or even decades, so much the better. Replacing cabinets, countertops, wall tile, and flooring is expensive. Choose high-quality materials that will last and remodel it once — or just once in a very great while. Make fixed items classic.

Use local, natural, and reclaimed materials, like solid woods and concrete tiles. Avoid vinyl and plastics; and use materials that can take a lot of wear and tear or be refinished. Consider how materials will be applied and installed, whether or not they’re reusable, and how difficult it will be to update. 

Integrate trends or quirky elements into your space with accents that are simpler and less expensive to change: wall colors or wallpaper, furniture, and decor. If they start to look dated, it’s simpler to change them out.

Develop relationships with local artisans who can craft custom furniture, cabinetry, and other items for you. They will last longer, which is always better for the environment (and for your budget). You can also search for quality items to reuse, like antique light globes or shades. Reused furniture is a greener choice and, bonus!, it takes pressure off the market for new items.

Do What You Can

Your space will never be 100% sustainable. But every choice you make — from the equipment you buy to the light bulbs in the storage closet — can make your restaurant or shop more sustainable and healthier for everyone.