With scarcely a toot of its own horn, the supermarket industry has taken a leadership role in the race for energy efficiency and greener commercial buildings. Store equipment manufacturers are working hard to keep pace.
To date, more than 1,100 U.S. supermarkets have earned the Environmental Protection Agency's “Energy Star” rating, representing more than 35% of all Energy Star-labeled buildings in the country, according to Enesta Jones, an EPA press officer.
In addition, more than 3,550 supermarkets have used Energy Star's Portfolio Manager tools to benchmark energy usage for a total of more than 160 million square feet of retail space, she said.
At the forefront of this effort is Food Lion, which has earned Energy Star certification at almost 600 of its stores to date in an effort to “become one of the most efficient grocery stores in the world on a Btu-per-square-foot basis,” as the company puts it.
Similarly, Giant Eagle has been involved with significant efficiency efforts in recent years, developing the industry's first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified supermarket, and earning awards from the Green Building Alliance and the Pennsylvania Resource Council, as well as the EPA.
These efforts are rooted both in newfound concerns for the environment, as well as the traditional ones at the bottom line.
“Supermarkets are a little more challenged than other retail operations in the fact that they're operating massive-square-footage facilities,” noted Todd Griffith, a regional sales manager for equipment maker Alto-Shaam. “Between lighting, heating, refrigeration, ventilation and air conditioning, utility costs are a huge part of their overhead.”
These expenses account for as much as 10% of the average supermarket's total costs, according to the EPA, and significant efficiency measures can save large operators millions of dollars per year, a message brought home by the recent spikes in energy prices.
“It's on the radar for everyone,” said Griffith. “Retailers are very concerned about energy management, energy costs — and it's been trickling down from major [chains] to independents as well.”
Makers of commercial lighting, refrigeration and food preparation equipment have responded to these concerns by developing new products that meet Energy Star criteria when possible. Alto-Shaam recently went a step further, creating its own internal “Ecosmart” trademark for product lines where the EPA has not yet developed evaluation protocols. The label mimics Energy Star standards, with Ecosmart products developed to be at least 30% more efficient on average when compared to standard equipment.
The industry's accomplishments have yet to emerge as a feel-good story among consumers concerned about the environment, but Griffith said it's just a matter of time.
“Food Lion has been getting a lot of kudos in the industry, and as consumers start to recognize the impact that these efforts are having on the environment, that story is going to start resonating,” he said.