The Energy Behind Facebook's Many On-Campus Perks

Facebook offers some fabulous amenities to its employees. These perks include cafeterias that serve three meals a day and a robust transportation program that keeps a large and ever-growing percentage of employees out of their cars. The company is planning even more offerings, including a state-of-the-art fitness center and additional food options, as it moves to its expansive new campus in Menlo Park, CA.

These amenities keep employees happy and healthy, and help make their lives easier by reducing the need to run errands throughout the workday.

Food is Energy

I am one of a team of three EDF Climate Corps fellows at Facebook this summer, working to make a business case for investments in energy efficiency. Given the important role that amenities play in Facebook's corporate culture, our team was excited to take on the task of examining how these services could be more energy-efficient.

The place to start was clear: food. It is easy to see (and taste) why food service is so highly valued by Facebook employees. Facebook's kitchens -- and the professionalism of its culinary staff -- are a sight to behold. I marvel every day at how a handful of individuals in tiny quarters can prepare thousands of delicious multi-course meals each day.

Looking inside the kitchen at mealtimes, I always see a well-oiled machine in which everyone knows their role, appearing to shift effortlessly from chopping and sautéing to serving and cleaning without taking even a second to think. Despite our lack of prior knowledge about large-scale food service operations, we knew it would be important that any change in the name of energy efficiency would not disrupt this impressive dynamic.

Ask for Help

We decided to invite Todd Bell, an expert from PG&E's Food Service Technology Center, to visit our cafeterias in order to provide practical and economical energy efficiency recommendations. His first observation was that almost all of Facebook's kitchen appliances were relatively new and Energy Star-certified, and thus were already quite energy efficient.

He did, however, identify a few high-impact areas for improvement that would not only promote energy efficiency, but would likely even improve the operating environment of the kitchen.

The most significant of these recommendations involved the kitchen's exhaust ventilation technology. Commercial kitchens, like home kitchens, have exhaust hoods that draw out hot air and smoke during the cooking process. In commercial kitchens, these hoods have powerful, noisy, energy-sucking fans and motors.

By law, exhaust hoods must be kept on whenever any food is being prepared. In the case of Facebook's kitchens, this is over 20 hours a day. Unfortunately, almost all standard kitchen hoods have only one setting, running at full power no matter how much heat and smoke are actually being produced.

Next page: Facebook's fitness center takes its toll