What you need to know about GEMS and your commercial refrigerator


Running a restaurant is rewarding, but one of the challenges is minimising the environmental impact of your venue.

With industrial-strength machinery running for hours on end, the commercial food and beverage industry releases its fair share of greenhouse-damaging gases. In fact, commercial refrigerators contribute over 7% of the world’s global warming emissions. In Australia, 4% of emissions are created by commercial refrigerators.

To minimise the impact of commercial kitchens, the Australian Government created the ‘GEMS’ Act several years ago (GEMS stands for Greenhouse and Energy Minimum Standards).

The goal of the act is to meet certain obligations that Australia has under the Climate Change Convention and to promote the development and adoption of products that:

  • use less energy; or
  • produce fewer greenhouse gases; or
  • contribute to reducing the amount of energy used, or greenhouse gases produced, by other products.

The Australian Government recently commissioned an Independent Review of the Greenhouse and Energy Minimum Standards Act 2012 (GEMS Act). As a result, there have been some changes. These are aimed at helping to mitigate climate change, helping Australia meet global standards and empowering businesses to make better purchasing decisions.

'Commercial refrigerators contribute over 7% of the world’s global warming emissions. In Australia, 4% of emissions are created by commercial refrigerators.'

If you’re planning to buy a new commercial refrigerator in 2021, changes to GEMS will affect your choice. Here's some more information…

How does GEMS impact your hospitality business and commercial refrigerator?

If you buy a new commercial refrigerator, it will need to achieve certain Energy Efficiency Index (EEI) targets as of May 2021.

These rules apply to all kinds of commercial refrigeration equipment, for example:

  • Ice cream freezers
  • Drinks cabinets
  • Refrigerated vending machines
  • Refrigerated display cabinets

For instance, from May 2021 a new heavy-duty refrigerated storage cabinet must have an EEI (Energy Efficiency Index) level of less than 115. A ‘normal duty’ refrigerated cabinet must have an EEI of less than 95.

Your new commercial refrigerator will also need to meet certain criteria when it comes to climate class, energy star rating and the total energy consumption/energy used over a 24-hour period. You should also have a rating on your M Pack temperature of at least M1 (this indicates how cold the food inside your fridge is).

In Australia, there are GEMS monitors who may visit your venue to ensure your appliances are compliant with regulatory requirements. The penalty for failing to comply may exceed $10,000.

What to do next

There is quite a lot to understand when it comes to GEMS compliance and commercial refrigerators in Australia. There is an ‘at a glance’ guide on the Australian Government’s energy rating website here.

One way to check that a model you are interested in buying meets regulations is to look here and check that it meets the various criteria. You can also track down the product specification sheet to check M Pack temperature and energy rating.

If you’re not sure if the commercial refrigerator you want meets GEMS legislation, or if you are looking to buy a new model, speak to your dealer. Ask them to confirm if your purchase will be compliant when the new regulations come into effect.

The silver lining

It may feel frustrating to have to adapt your venue to new rules and find appliances which meet a new set of standards.

However, there is an upside for your business: the less energy your fridge uses, the lower your power bills are. Savings can total hundreds of dollars a year, which will add up significantly over time.

What’s more, it is common for older, outdated fridges to struggle to hold temperatures. As a result, you may find products don’t keep as well. Upgrading will give you more reliability and increase the shelf life of your food and beverages.

Visit energyrating.gov.au/products/refrigeration-commercial and legislation.gov.au to find out more about Greenhouse and Energy Minimum Standards and how it impacts the purchase of commercial refrigerators in Australia.

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