Net-Zero Hero: Joi Chevalier
I’m helping to make Austin Net-Zero by: creating an energy-efficient, low-waste culinary incubator that assists over 20 local food + tech companies
Meet Joi Chevalier, our newest Net-Zero Hero! Joi started The Cook’s Nook, Austin’s first shared commercial kitchen and culinary incubator. Prior to opening the Cook’s Nook, Joi worked as an e-commerce product manager and marketing director in the tech industry for nearly 20 years. After leaving the tech field, she decided to pursue her passion for cooking and graduated from the Auguste Escoffier’s School of Culinary Arts.
Soon after, she decided to merge her love of culinary arts with her technology background — eventually opening The Cook’s Nook. Since then, her business has helped more than 30 businesses in the Austin area do research and development, develop products, hold staff meetings, put together business plans, and more. Joi Also serves on the Austin-Travis County Food Policy Board, which advises council on matters related to our local food system.
We spoke with Joi about her commitment to Net-Zero, what her toughest challenges have been, and what advice she has for others.
What inspired you to take action?
At my culinary incubator, The Cook’s Nook, we needed to create an energy-efficient space in order to keep down monthly operating expenses as best we could. Since we would be providing a space for small food businesses that are just starting out, we needed our energy costs to be low in order to keep the space affordable for them. We also knew that because we planned to have a commercial production kitchen space, there would be waste, recycling, and organics that would be generated. In short, we wanted to plan ahead.
How did you do it?
During the envisioning of The Cook’s Nook, we knew that to keep long-term energy consumption and spend low, we had to commit to things like adding double-walls to our building, using energy efficient insulation, insulating our bay doors, closing open roof cavities, choosing LED and sensor lighting, and choosing Energy Star-rated equipment. Additionally, we searched for opportunities with the City and heard about the Universal Recycling Ordinance Zero Waste Business Rebate program, so we started our URO diversion plan early.
What’s been the toughest part?
Honestly, the City building requirements were a hurdle. There was no centralized knowledge for small businesses who do not build often regarding requirements for water quality, electrical poles, taps, insulation demands, and wastewater size expectations. This made it very difficult to anticipate costs and plan ahead.
Trash and waste also remain an issue for us since very few haulers service small non-restaurant businesses. These haulers want large parking and access to make bin pickup easy for them, but that’s not how many small businesses are set up. This means that becoming compliant with the URO is sometimes costly, especially for small businesses. We need more service options with an extensive Organics Diversion Program.
Lastly, having food companies understand the URO’s requirements and benefits remains a challenge.
Have there been any unexpected benefits?
We have efficient and quieter equipment in our space, which makes it a more pleasant production environment and keeps our utility costs more even throughout the year. Seeing the amount of organics we create going to farms or managed differently instead of just going into the trash is a big plus. And, knowing that our cardboard recycling isn’t just tossed into landfill is rewarding.
What advice do you have for others?
Try to plan your sustainability program ahead of time — and understand your waste management choices prior to building.
Want to learn more about The Cook’s Nook? Here’s how to get in contact.
To learn more about Austin's Net-Zero Goal, view the Community Climate Plan. Share your Net-Zero contributions with us on Twitter or Facebook and use #NetZeroHero. If you know a Net-Zero Hero (or heroes!) who should be recognized for their efforts, send your nomination to email@example.com.