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GreenChill Is Great, but There's Room for Improvement

GreenChill Is Great, but There's Room for Improvement

The supermarket industry does not usually regard the federal government as a close friend and ally. Like most businesses, food retailers tend to chafe under Uncle Sam's rules, regulations and taxations.

But there is at least one notable exception to this pattern: The GreenChill Advanced Refrigeration Partnership, run by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency since November 2007. GreenChill, under the leadership of its remarkable manager, Keilly Witman, has in a relatively brief period of time changed the supermarket industry's relationship with the EPA from a mostly adversarial one to something that is benefiting many food retailers as well as the environment.

For those unfamiliar with it, GreenChill is a free, voluntary program that invites food retailers to, among other things, track their refrigerant leaks — which wreak havoc on both the environment and retailers' bottom lines — and set a goal for reducing them. There are no penalties for failing to meet reduction goals, but most GreenChill participants are able to cut emissions significantly.

Consider this: The average supermarket leak rate is 25%, while the average leak rate for GreenChill participants is 12%. During the first year of membership, GreenChill Partners on average reduce their corporate refrigerant emissions by almost 10%. Moreover, 39 stores in the program have been certified as meeting highly stringent standards for both leak and charge reduction.

GreenChill has made exceptional inroads with food retailers. Of the 50 companies participating in the program, 40 are supermarket banners representing close to 5,500 stores across 48 states. The program also includes refrigeration manufacturers and refrigerant producers.

But as successful as GreenChill has been, it can still be better — and have an even larger impact on the environment and store efficiencies. One way is for more supermarket chains to join the program, which lacks many major retailers.

In some cases, the EPA has barred from GreenChill retailers that are dealing with an enforcement issue — even for one store — related to Section 608 of the Clean Air Act (which forbids leak rates of more than 35% for R-22). But there are plenty of retailers that have no such impediment. For my money, there is no other reason for a retailer not to join GreenChill.

Some of the factors holding back GreenChill reside within the EPA. For one thing, it's foolhardy for the agency to prevent a chain with hundreds of stores from joining the program if only one or two of its stores run afoul of the Clean Air Act. Second, the EPA has not devoted enough resources to the program, especially given the positive impact it is having. Keilly Witman is somehow running it by herself and she needs help.

If she had that help, two other major constituencies would probably be able to join — refrigeration contractors and component manufacturers. Contractors would in turn be able to bring many of their retail customers — especially small operators — into the program.

The EPA should be advised that it can make a great program even better.