While any supermarket operator today would be concerned about conserving energy and protecting the environment in a new store, those issues are particularly important to Puget Consumers Co-Op Natural Markets, a 50-year-old natural foods cooperative based in Seattle.
Calling itself the largest natural foods cooperative in the United States, PCC Natural Markets is dedicated to selling food "likely to be produced in a way that helps sustain the environment," according to its Web site, pccnaturalmarkets.com. Between 80% and 90% of its offerings are organic products, with an emphasis on local and small farmers. Natural items make up the balance of the product assortment.
So it makes sense that the 40,000-member co-op, which operates seven stores in the Puget Sound region surrounding Seattle, would pay careful attention to the energy and environmental implications of its newest store, a 19,541-square-foot urban flagship unit. The store opened in June in the Fremont section of Seattle, replacing an existing store half that size.
The new store makes for a good case study in energy-saving techniques for attendees of a nearby conference taking place this week -- Food Marketing Institute's Energy and Technical Services Conference, which runs through Wednesday at the Westin Seattle.
PCC's store was built with an array of energy-saving and ecology-friendly systems that not only adhere to its core principles, but also contribute nicely to the bottom line. Solar panels, ozone-friendly refrigerants, recycled-straw cases, linoleum floors in the bathrooms, and filtered fresh air are all part of the design.
"We expect to realize some real savings to our bottom line as a good, long-term investment that will help us be more competitive in the future," said Randy
Lee, PCC's chief financial officer. "We thought that the cost of some features would be more [than average], but overall, the cost averaged only 1% more, and in some cases was even less."
However, initial concerns about cost did not deter the co-op from its key mission: The Fremont store's design should represent "an extension of our mission to foster a sustainable environment and to take positions on issues that affect our sustainable environment," said Lee.
To bird-dog implementation of the company values, PCC established a Sustainability Task Force last year. The retailer started to evaluate building materials and systems to dovetail construction and operations with those values.
"The Fremont location features a wide variety of innovations to boost energy efficiency, utilize recycled materials, and improve indoor air quality," said George Ostrow, with Seattle-based Velocipede Architects, designers of the project. "Energy-efficient lighting, photovoltaic cells, recycled structural steel, refrigerant that does not harm the ozone layer, and an elevator that operates using biodegradable canola oil rather than standard hydraulic fluid are just a few of the considerations we made when developing the design."
Here Comes the Sun
The Fremont location is the first business in Seattle to install photovoltaic cells (solar panels) to produce electricity, said co-op officials. A 3-kilowatt photovoltaic panel array on the south canopy, above the protected outdoor cafe seating, produces electricity from sunlight without moving parts or pollution. Each kilowatt produced is credited to PCC's lighting account.
In addition, special solar selective glass at the west and south sides of the building reduces solar heat gain by 50%. This allows air conditioning in those zones to be downsized 20%, while maintaining a visibility of 90%.
"The sun pours in the western windows," where produce is located, said CFO Lee. "We spent $4,000 for a special glass to cut solar heat gain in half. And the reduced load on the air-conditioning systems allows the heat pumps to be smaller, saving $5,000 in equipment costs. That gave us a net savings of $1,000 right out of the gate. It's a win-win."
Full-spectrum lighting at the store, using low-mercury lamps at 2.48 watts per square foot, is 17% below Washington state's Non-Residential Energy Code. Coupled with occupancy sensors and timers, the low-mercury bulbs save 17,000 hours over incandescent lighting, while reducing toxic waste disposal.
The store's mechanical and refrigeration systems are connected by a glycol-circulating hydronic loop. Heat generated from cooling food is captured to heat the store's hot water and interior air. "We look at milk containers as our heating system," said Ostrow. "To get things cold, we take the heat out. Rather than dumping this heat out the roof, we use it to heat water to clean and cook with."
Additionally, the store's design takes advantage of the utilization of recycled materials. Structural steel is 100% recycled; steel studs, 25%; and steel doors and frames, 20%. Building insulation in the walls and ceiling is fiberglass, 25% of it recycled glass. Insulation under the floor slab is cellulose, 80% recycled cardboard. Custom cabinets feature panels -- made from agricultural wheat chaff waste -- that account for a third of product frontage.
Indoor air quality was also addressed in the new unit's design. With an indoor parking garage directly below the store and apartments plus a courtyard above, a mechanical system providing positively pressurized, filtered fresh air was installed. Two weeks prior to opening, the store was continuously flushed with fresh air. "We developed an indoor air-quality plan," said Ostrow. "During construction, ducts were sealed. Then the store was filtered for two weeks. And finally we changed the filters. Now, we have filtered fresh air all the time."
In the end, "the store is simply the implementation of our company values, rooted in what our members want," said Trudy Bialic, manager, public affairs. "Sustainability and good environmental practices go hand-in-hand with successful business."
TAKING ANOTHER LOOK
Now that energy efficiency is a requirement of new store construction, food retailers are engaging in recommissioning programs that take a second look at existing stores to check on their energy consumption.
The Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., Montvale, N.J., has just concluded a pilot phase of a recommissioning program. A cross-section of 20 stores was selected -- the five top-performing units, the five worst-performing units, and 10 from the middle of the pack in terms of energy consumption.
A&P asked its contractor, Emerson Retail Services, Atlanta, to gather and organize information on store equipment type, makes and model numbers, as well as on light fixtures and wattage, to get a complete picture of each store under evaluation. By placing the information in a workable database, A&P was able to identify equipment efficiency and upgrade issues, and work with maintenance contractors to ensure that stores are maintained according to contracts and specifications.
"The pilot results were better than we expected, and provided a few surprises," said Jim Kirk, A&P's corporate utility manager. "We found that the stores we considered 'best performing' and efficient actually benefited the most. The [overall] result was an average 6% reduction in kilowatts-per-hour consumption in the stores."
Because of rising energy costs, hard dollar savings were not claimed for the pilot, said sources, though the energy reductions did cover cost increases. Based on these results, A&P plans to roll out the program to other stores over several phases within the next two years.
A&P initially looked at the entire chain, evaluating roughly 600 stores in the United States, and decided the best approach would be to establish a three-phase program of 200 stores each. For the first phase, stores with the highest utility costs will be the focus.
To get the most out of a recommissioning program, Kirk suggested the following:
Conduct a pilot. In the initial planning phase of the program, it may be wise to conduct a pilot program using internal resources. The results will give an idea of the possible savings, and may help convince management on the benefits.
Consider a phased approach. Using this strategy, operators can realize lower energy consumption and leverage savings to subsidize additional recommissioning, as well as benefit from lessons learned.
Choose an experienced contractor. The quality and experience of the contractor are among the most important factors in a recommissioning program. Look at such areas as the company's methodology, number of project managers in the field, length of project, reporting structure, and especially, monitoring and follow-up capabilities.
Gather information. A recommissioning program provides the perfect opportunity to gather information and identify opportunities to improve energy efficiency and operational performance.
Understand the work required. While recommissioning will definitely help lower energy consumption, it's important to not underestimate the scope of the project. Formulate a plan and set goals, so the project runs smoothly and has the desired outcome.