THE GREENING OF RETAIL may have started with bag recycling and in-store can/bottle redemption centers, but it's quickly evolving to include every part of the supply chain.
Sustainability now plays a role in how distribution centers, as well as stores, are constructed, heated, air conditioned and lit. It also factors heavily in land site maintenance, fuel conservation and product sourcing.
Stores themselves are primary beneficiaries of the various retail initiatives. This strategy makes sense, since real estate is one of the costliest items in any retailer's budget; operators also get the chance to communicate these efforts directly to customers shopping in an environmentally minded store. Don Moseley, Wal-Mart Stores' senior engineer for environmental innovation, described the mega-retailer's sustainability initiatives as “good for the environment and good for our business.” Although holistic sustainability initiatives are costly and time-consuming, he stressed that “the huge majority of changes we're making are financially beneficial.”
Indeed, Wal-Mart is reportedly considering what could be the largest solar power purchase in history: installing solar power equipment at 340 Wal-Mart stores in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, and New Jersey over the next five years.
“Assuming that each store utilized about 300 kilowatts of solar panels, we're talking roughly 100 megawatts of solar,” said Joel Makower, executive editor of GreenBiz.com, an online resource center focused on business and the environment.
A decision could come sometime this spring or summer, according to Lauren Cole, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman.
Wind power credits are nothing new to Pleasanton, Calif.-based Safeway. The national chain is currently the fourth-largest retail buyer of wind energy in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. It has purchased two years' worth of wind-derived energy to power its entire corporate headquarters campuses in Pleasanton and Walnut Creek, Calif., all of its San Francisco and Boulder, Colo., stores, and its 270 U.S. fuel stations. Based on national average utility subregion emissions rates, the EPA estimates that Safeway's purchase of 87 million kilowatt-hours per year is equivalent to avoiding the CO2 emissions associated with nearly 12,000 cars and the combustion of more than 3.6 million gallons of gasoline.
On the East Coast, supported by New Jersey's Clean Energy Program, Carteret, N.J.-based Pathmark Stores is currently installing 750 kW of photovoltaic solar panels in three stores, averaging 52,000 square feet each. The system, in development for two years, is expected to be online and producing clean, renewable energy to meet up to 5% of the stores' energy needs by early spring.
As part of the second phase of the project, the retailer is considering the installation of solar panels on several more stores, as well as on its 275,000-square-foot distribution center in nearby Edison, said Steve Castracane, Pathmark's energy manager. In addition, Pathmark is also looking to add wind-generated power to its supply portfolio by acquiring its own generating devices to supplement the power needs of the stores in shore areas.
“The availability of tax incentives, net metering, state rebates and renewable energy credits could cover a significant portion of the installation,” said Castracane. “We could see a payback within five years.”
Quincy, Mass.-based Stop & Shop is pursuing a different kind of energy-saver, installing white reflective thermoplastic polyolefin (TPO) roofs on 70 stores to reflect solar radiation, expecting to reduce air conditioning loads by about 8 tons per store. TPO roofs are now part of the plans for newly built stores, said Jihad Rizkallah, vice president of design and engineering.
Stop & Shop's greening efforts are also occurring inside its stores. Since the 1980s, the company has used energy management systems to give store managers remote control of all electromechanical systems such as lighting, heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration. The Ahold-owned chain has also installed a “daylight harvesting system” in most of its new stores, using a photoelectronic sensor coupled to the central energy management system; when the sun is bright, the system dims the lights accordingly.
To optimize lighting efficiencies elsewhere, Stop & Shop has put occupancy sensors in all its offices, corridors, break rooms, locker rooms, conference rooms, rest rooms, storage rooms and offices. The company has also replaced traditional lighting with T-5 high-efficiency fluorescent lighting in 145 retrofitted stores, and has begun to install “Super T-8” fluorescents in perimeter areas and back rooms in new stores. Stop & Shop is also installing refrigerated display cases with energy-efficient ECM fan motors and microprocessor-based temperature and defrost control systems.
“The payback on this initiative is less than four years,” said Rizkallah. “The average yearly savings is 265,000 kWh per store. All remodels are designed with the T-5 lighting for the sales area and T-8 lighting for the back rooms and prep areas.”
Salisbury, N.C.-based Food Lion, which replaced its gas pretreatment boilers with heat reclamation technology in about 100 stores last year, is testing new refrigeration controllers in order to give the stores more flexibility in controlling their refrigeration and HVAC equipment, as well as “to bring a new level of sophistication and creativity to our energy management approach,” said spokeswoman Ruth Kinzey. “This saves money, uses less energy and is a more energy-efficient strategy.”
Food Lion's demand control program, launched in 2005, sheds energy loads during peak times by controlling such factors as exhaust hoods in the deli's rooftop unit and the sales floor's lighting. The program is being expanded, said Kinzey, because the results “show we can reduce demand every month, and even more so during the summer months, when load levels are higher. Once the pilot is completed, we'll be poised to roll out this initiative on a companywide basis.”
Sustainability initiatives typically extend beyond stores and buildings into the logistics and transportation aspects of many supermarket chains. Milwaukee-based Roundy's has installed lighting timers to conserve electric power consumption throughout its Oconomowoc, Wis.-based facility. The wholesaler/retailer also designed the distribution center, which opened in 2005, to optimize daylight so as to reduce lighting demands. The fuel storage and distribution center was designed to exceed federal requirements in case of any accidental spills; and landscaping for the facility includes berms, trees and grasses that provide a habitat for wildlife. In trucks, diesel oxidation catalysts were installed to reduce exhaust emissions on more than one-fourth of the company's Class 8 truck fleet.
To reduce fuel usage at its banners such as Stop & Shop, Ahold has introduced truck idling systems that switch the engine off if a truck has been left running for too long, and they are experimenting with fuel additives that will increase the efficiency of their trucks' engines. The diesel fuel used by Ahold's Giant-Carlisle/Tops division is spiked with a cost-efficient and less environmentally harmful soy additive that constitutes 5% of the blend.
To further minimize emissions and costs, Ahold maximizes load factors, ensuring that trucks carry as much product as possible on every trip. They use computer systems to plan the most efficient trucking routes and loading procedures; they also attempt to maximize backhauling, in which goods from a supplier are picked up on a truck's return trip to a distribution center, to reduce the number of empty miles driven.
Such comprehensive measures can make a big impact on the public. Safeway's Joe Pettus, senior vice president of fuel and energy operations, said the combined strategic approach of renewable power, recycling and energy efficiency has allowed Safeway to pursue “a comprehensive environmental strategy that benefits our customers and the communities we serve.”
Castracane said that based on EPA calculations, Pathmark's annual energy reduction initiatives save enough electricity “to power over 2,000 homes for an entire year; it eliminates annual pollution emissions equal to 35 million pounds of CO2 or 3,000 cars, and is like planting over 5,000 acres of trees.”
A 'Wal-Mart' Initiative
Last month, Wal-Mart Stores opened the first of what management said will be a series of “High-Efficiency” stores that use 20% less energy than typical Wal-Mart Supercenters.
The store, which opened in Kansas City, Mo., employs a number of cutting-edge technologies tested in Wal-Mart's two experimental energy-efficient stores in McKinney, Texas and Aurora, Colo. Both opened in 2005.
“We are learning a tremendous amount from our experimental stores,” said Eric Zorn, president of Wal-Mart Realty. “Wal-Mart stores are already some of the most energy-efficient in the retail industry, but we want to take efficiency even further. This new Supercenter is where we really get to put what we've learned into practice, and we're excited to reach a 20% energy reduction so quickly.”
To achieve that number, Wal-Mart installed a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system and a more efficient refrigeration system. The fully integrated components take 100% of the heat rejected by the refrigeration system and route it to the HVAC equipment for reclamation. By incorporating a loop piping design, the advanced refrigeration system also reduces the amount of installed copper and the total refrigerant charge required.
Other energy-saving technologies in the High-Efficiency store include the installation of ultra-efficient case fans, glass doors on medium-temperature grocery cases, patented RollSeal quick-response doors to seal air in areas such as the Garden Center, and a top-of-the-line dehumidification system. Refrigerated-case lighting uses a longer-life light-emitting diode (LED) manufactured by GE.
The store also has a daylight harvesting system, which uses skylights to bring daylight into the store and light sensors to monitor the amount of natural light available. During periods of peak daylight, the system dims or turns off the store's interior lights.
Energy managers need to carefully examine the characteristics of their specific operating environments. A number of online resources can provide advice and incentives:
- Information on state and federal programs for renewable energy: www.dsireusa.org/ .
- The EPA's Guide to Purchasing Green Power: www.epa.gov/greenpower/buygreenpower/guide.htm 
- General certified renewable energy sources: www.green-e.org/base/re_products?cust=b#res 
- Information about environmentally responsible business development: www.greenerbuildings.com .