Restaurant's Power Smart efforts produce a warm glow

Nina Winham

On October 28th, restaurants around Vancouver opened their doors – and shut off their lights.

"We had a few people come in and say oh, is there a power outage?" says Lisa Baldwin, General Manager of Provence Marinaside in Vancouver's Yaletown. "We said, 'No, we're doing this to make people aware of the little things we can all do to be energy conscious in our lives.' We had a lot of candles and it was really beautiful – a lot of people really loved it."

Provence Marinaside was one of nearly 40 restaurants in the Vancouver area that took part in a Candlelight Conservation Dinner, organized by BC Hydro Power Smart and Tourism Vancouver. Members of Team Power Smart (individuals committed to reducing their energy consumption) had exclusive access to coupons – ranging from free appetizers to 2-for-1 entrees – for the event.

It's the second time Provence has taken part in a candlelit dinner to help promote energy conservation (the first was Earth Day last spring). Meanwhile, the business has been taking steps to improve its own conservation efforts. Owner and chef Jean-Francis Quaglia says his lighting supplier helped him get started on energy efficiency.

"I tried some of those energy efficient light bulbs at home, but they don't always give you the glow that you want, and they didn't used to be dimmable – so that was a concern of mine," says Quaglia. "But he told me the technology has improved – there are new bulbs that give light that is softer and more warm. So we decided to give them a try in part of the restaurant where we seat about 25 people."

Quaglia installed cold cathode lamps to replace traditional incandescents. Cold cathode lights provide calm light – they're often installed in quiet alcove areas and in waiting rooms. They have one of the longest lifespans of any lighting fixture, at about 50,000 hours. Provence Marinaside was able to make use of a financial incentive from BC Hydro's Product Incentive Program to offset the cost of the switch.

The restaurant is now switching the lamps in its main dining room, and studying what can be done to improve energy efficiency in the kitchen area.

"The incentive [for upgrading the lighting] was that the person who took care of this did some of the homework, plus we got a refund from BC Hydro," says Quaglia. "The next step is my kitchen, where I have to change the actual fixtures I have. BC Hydro also has a program to help out there as well."

Baldwin says staff have picked up on the effort. "The staff is really positive about everything that's good for the environment," she says. "We're definitely way more conscious of it than we have been in the past. There are times of day when we don't have certain lights on because we realize we really don't need them; it's just force of habit to switch everything on in the morning and sometimes it's not necessary. So we're doing that where we are able."

"It's something we always wanted to do," says Quaglia, who moved from France with his Canadian wife and has two restaurants in Vancouver (check out his recipes online). "We've been cutting down on paper to have a smaller footprint, and I'm changing my water taps, so they have an automatic shutoff and help save water. I buy as much as possible local sustainable produce, and we're part of the Oceanwise seafood program.

"It's still too early to see how much money we will save with the change in lighting, and we're not all the way there yet. But we're working at it."

Quaglia says some customers came to the restaurant especially for the candlelight dinner – but others were just there because it was a busy night, with U2 playing at BC Place Stadium. Either way, he says, the restaurant's energy-efficiency promotion was a plus.

"Even those who were there for the concert, they got a real different feel, it impacted their thinking. They didn't know about BC Hydro's [Power Smart] campaign – so it definitely put awareness in people."

Nina Winham is a Vancouver-based sustainability consultant and writer.