Chilling Out

Every food retailer is familiar with the cost of refrigeration. Keeping fresh foods chilled and frozen foods frozen in a busy shopping environment adds up quickly on a commercial power bill. And, there are hidden costs as well. Refrigerant leaks can be particularly damaging to the atmosphere's ozone layer, which helps filter the sun's ultraviolet radiation. Some of the worst offenders, such as R22

Every food retailer is familiar with the cost of refrigeration. Keeping fresh foods chilled and frozen foods frozen in a busy shopping environment adds up quickly on a commercial power bill.

And, there are hidden costs as well. Refrigerant leaks can be particularly damaging to the atmosphere's ozone layer, which helps filter the sun's ultraviolet radiation. Some of the worst offenders, such as R22 refrigerants, are being phased out under the terms of international treaties, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been working with a growing number of supermarket chains to help cut back on refrigerant emissions in general, through its GreenChill program, launched in 2007. Buehler Food Markets recently became the latest member of the program.

“We're making a commitment as a company to reduce our refrigerant emissions into the atmosphere from this day forward,” said Becky Foster, director of construction and maintenance for the Wooster, Ohio-based chain.

The company has established sustainability as one of its six primary goals, noted company Vice President Scott Buehler. Other current sustainability projects at Buehler's include a new food waste composting program and the establishment of new recycling centers. The company also recently outfitted several of its diesel trucks with engines that can burn used fryer oil.

Now, by signing on to the GreenChill partnership, Buehler's has basically promised that it will significantly curb refrigerant emissions, and the EPA, along with other retail members of the partnership, has promised to help them do just that.

As a new member, Foster is currently working to gather data on all of the pieces of equipment in Buehler's 13 locations, including refrigeration, freezer and HVAC equipment. Documentation on all leaks associated with this equipment — dating back to 2008 — has been assembled, and once this information is submitted to the GreenChill program, officials there will analyze the company's annual refrigerant discharge in pounds, set a baseline, and then help it set obtainable goals to reduce those leaks in 2010, 2011 and beyond.

Foster noted that the information that is handed over to the EPA in this program is confidential, and cannot be used to assess government penalties for leaks or other problems.

“In other words, if we had a huge leak and submitted that data, it is not turned over to the government for you to be penalized,” explained Foster, adding that data is shared anonymously with other retail members of the GreenChill Partnership.

Once the information is gathered, there are several ways to reduce emissions, ranging from investment in new refrigeration technology to better leak monitoring and prevention, noted Keilly Witman, director of the GreenChill Partnership for the EPA.

“We don't really prescribe one particular method that is a solution for everybody. We are very technology focused — we do concentrate on what we call advanced refrigeration technology. The three main types are secondary loop technology, distributed technology and CO2 cascade systems. But, we have partners who have chosen not to invest in any new technology, but to concentrate instead on improved maintenance practices,” Witman said.

She continued: “Often, if a supermarket chain comes into GreenChill and has a very high leak rate, they can make huge improvements right off the bat by making sure someone walks through each store once per month with a handheld leak detector.”