Nearly three-quarters of food retailers surveyed by SN said they have reduced the consumption of electrical energy in their stores in the past year, suggesting continued progress toward greener retailing in the supermarket business.
A significant percentage of retailers indicated that they’ve adopted new technologies designed to conserve energy, such as energy management systems (49%), LED lighting (51%) and skylights (33%). However, in the use of renewable energy, supermarkets have made only marginal inroads, with only 8% employing solar energy in their stores and just 5% using wind energy credits. SN’s second annual Green Store Survey, conducted online earlier this month, elicited responses from 39 food retailers.
Among new lighting technologies, LED systems were favored by a considerable margin, 51% to 18%, over fiber-optic lighting in the survey. Both types of lighting technology are deployed in freezer cases as well as other areas of the store, while LED lighting has been used in outside signage and parking lots.
By reducing energy consumption in its stores, Save Mart, Modesto, Calif., has accrued about $3 million in energy rebates over the past two years from utilities that serve its nearly 250 stores operating in Northern California and the northern part of Nevada. Thirty-six percent of survey respondents said they received utility rebates for taking energy-saving measures in their stores.
Some retailers, such as Food Lion and Giant Eagle, have made a major commitment to getting their stores certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program for achieving high levels of energy efficiency. In the survey, 28% of respondents said that at least one of their stores has received Energy Star certification.
Last year, Safeway, Pleasanton, Calif., announced a plan to use only soy-based B20 biodiesel to fuel its entire fleet of more than 1,000 delivery trucks — the only U.S. retailer to do so. But only 15% of survey respondents are using biofuels in their company trucks.
One of the imminent issues confronting food retailers is the reduction of R-22 availability next year, when the ozone-depleting HCFC refrigerant will no longer be produced or imported for new refrigeration equipment. In preparation for this shortfall, retailers are either stockpiling reserves of R-22 or switching over to HFC refrigerants, which do not harm the ozone layer.
In the survey, 72% of retailers said that at least one of their stores is using an HFC refrigerant instead of R-22. Moreover, 59% of respondents said their stores will be fully converted to HFC refrigerants by 2010.
A number of major food retailers — Publix, Supervalu and its retail banners, Raley’s, Harris Teeter, Hannaford Bros., Food Lion, Price Chopper, Giant Eagle, Whole Foods Market, King Kullen and Weis Markets — have joined the EPA’s GreenChill Advanced Refrigeration Partnership since its launch in 2007. The voluntary program aims to reduce the usage and leakage of supermarket refrigerants that impact either the ozone layer or climate change.
The GreenChill program recognizes food retailers that have achieved an annual storewide refrigerant emissions rate of 15% of refrigerant charge or less. According to the survey, 56% of respondents said their leak rate was less than 20%; 28% said it was between 20% and 24.99%; and 13% said it was between 25% and 30%. No respondent indicated a leak rate above 30%. The EPA’s regulatory leak-rate cap is 35%, which is expected to be lowered in the next round of regulations.
Retailers participating in GreenChill are exploring advanced refrigeration systems that require less conventional refrigerant and experience lower rates of emission. One such system, known as secondary-loop refrigeration, is being used by a growing number of supermarkets for medium-temperature refrigeration, while a few chains, notably Food Lion, are testing it for low-temperature applications.
When it comes to overall recycling of solid waste from their stores, 46% of respondents said they diverted more than half of their total waste from landfill through recycling.
Just under one-quarter (23%) of survey respondents said they were using a secondary-loop system in at least one store. Another refrigeration alternative, the distributed system, which brings smaller chilling systems closer to the refrigerated food, is being used by one-third of respondents in at least one store.
One of the most publicized environmental issues involving supermarkets has been the effort to reduce reliance on plastic and paper grocery bags. Earlier this month, chains operating in Massachusetts signed an agreement with the state to reduce by a third their distribution of plastic and paper bags. One of the ways to do that is to encourage the use of reusable grocery bags, and 85% of respondents said they offer those bags in their stores. Two-thirds of respondents said they provide plastic-bag recycling bins.