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Following Europe

Let's face it, when it comes to environmental progress, the U.S. tends to lag behind Europe. That certainly seems true in the retail business. Chains like Tesco and Marks & Spencer are exceptionally proactive in pursuing a low-carbon business strategy compared to most U.S. retailers. And in refrigeration, many European retailers--especially in northern countries--have embraced carbon dioxide as a refrigerant over the HFCs to which US retailers are transitioning. In large part that is because of taxes and laws that provide incentives for adopting carbon dioxide.

Why is this significant? Because carbon dioxide--although it is the primary greenhouse gas contributing to global warming--by itself is a natural gas that has a much lower global warming impact than HFC refrigerants. Even though HFCs don't deplete the ozone layer like the R-22 refrigerant still most commonly used today, they are still potent greenhouse gases. So, especially with cap-and-trade legislation coming (see yesterday's post), truly forward thinking retailers will need to look to a natural refrigerant like carbon dioxide.

This was all spelled out yesterday here at the FMI Energy Show by Raphael Gerber, project manager, Frigo Consulting. Later, I asked Scott Martin, my main contact at Hill Phoenix, about this, and he reassured me that carbon dioxide is the refrigerant that US retailers are moving toward. A number of U.S. retailers are already testing carbon dioxide refrigeration systems. Ken Welter of Stop & Shop told me his chain is very interested in this technology. So while we may be behind Europe, at least we're catching up.

One other thought on this conference: I think more than any other part of the supermarket industry, retail energy management executives are willing to share best practices with their peers at conferences like this. It is a model others should follow.