At Sobeys, the Canadian food retailer that received SN’s 2012 Sustainability Excellence Award in the chain category, a guiding principle in its sustainability program is “what gets measured gets done.”
Measurement is indeed a powerful tool in controlling energy consumption, limiting refrigeration leaks, and diverting more waste from landfills. And it applies just as well to the industry as a whole as it does to individual companies.
The broader effect of data collection on sustainability is being demonstrated by the supermarket industry in the United Kingdom. Since 2008, a group called the Environmental Investigation Agency has conducted a “Chilling Facts” survey asking the major U.K. food retailers about their use of refrigerants.
EIA’s goal is to persuade these chains to convert from HFC (hydrofluorocarbon) refrigerants, which contribute significantly to global warming, to other, environmentally friendly refrigerants, and the survey has tracked their progress. In its latest report (available at www.eia-international.org/chilling-facts-iv), EIA declared that “HFC-free refrigeration has gone mainstream” in the U.K., with 344 stores now using climate-friendly refrigeration systems, up from just 14 in 2008.
In the U.S., with a much larger base of supermarkets, 75 stores are testing carbon dioxide systems that limit the use of HFCs, and there appears to be growing interest in these systems. But the closest anyone has come to measuring, in a detailed way, the refrigeration practices of supermarkets is the data-collection effort undertaken by the Environmental Protection Agency’s GreenChill program, which encompasses about 8,000 stores. Participating chains are asked to set refrigerant-leak-reduction goals and benchmark their progress, sharing the information with GreenChill.
Last month, SN decided to launch its own Refrigeration Survey (available at http://insidepenton.com/research/sg/2012env.htm), which attempts to gather data from companies not in the GreenChill program as well as those that are. The survey is completely anonymous unless respondents choose to identify their company; there is also a sweepstakes for the new Kindle.
Refrigeration, which accounts for at least 30% of the power consumption in a store and is often more than half of its carbon footprint, has become a major operational and environmental issue. By contributing measurable data to the SN survey – and by participating in the GreenChill program — retailers will help ensure that progress “gets done,” for the industry and themselves.