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2010 Power 50: No. 50 Keilly Witman

For food retailers, Keilly Witman has become known as the “friendly face” of the Environmental Protection Agency, the person to call when you have questions about refrigerant leaks, the new R-22 refrigerant regulation or anything else refrigeration-related.

Before Witman joined the EPA in August 2007, the agency had a more formidable reputation among supermarket operators, who were wary of its regulatory clout with regard to refrigeration leak rates. But Witman, a former marketing executive with Procter & Gamble, has helped to make the EPA more approachable through her management of the agency’s GreenChill Advanced Refrigeration Partnership, a free, voluntary program launched in November 2007.

While EPA puts a cap on the leak rate allowed in supermarket refrigeration systems (currently 35%), GreenChill offers retailers an opportunity to reduce their leak rates at their own pace in collaboration with their peers. In addition, retailers can learn how to lower refrigerant charge sizes, transition to non-ozone-depleting refrigerants and adopt advanced refrigeration systems.

Six retailers — Food Lion, Giant Eagle, Hannaford Bros., Harris Teeter, Publix and Whole Food — were GreenChill’s six founding retail partners; the program also had two refrigeration manufacturers (Hill Phoenix and Kysor/Warren) and two refrigerant suppliers (DuPont and Honeywell) as founding partners.

GreenChill now has 49 partners, including 39 supermarket banners (12 of them Supervalu divisions). Almost 5,500 supermarkets are represented in the program, covering 48 of the 50 states. “It’s safe to say the supermarket industry has jumped on board and shown a willingness to work together,” said Witman, who continues to work on expanding membership in the program.

Since 2008, GreenChill’s food retail partners have collectively reduced their refrigeration emissions by about 10%. Even more striking, in an industry in which the average leak rate is 25%, the average for GreenChill retailers is just 12%. “Many people said to me it was impossible to get below a 10% emissions rate,” she said. “We now have quite a few partners below 10%.” Last year, Giant Eagle won the award for the lowest emissions rate — 7.8%.

Witman emphasized that retailers don’t have to start with stellar emissions rates. They just have to measure their current rate as a baseline and set an annual reduction goal. “If they don’t achieve their goal, nothing happens; but if they do, they get recognized for doing so,” she said.

GreenChill also recognizes individual stores with annual platinum, gold and silver store certification awards for achieving certain levels of refrigerant charge and leak rate. To date 33 stores have received awards: two platinums, 11 golds and 20 silvers.

GreenChill also strives to promote the adoption of advanced refrigeration systems such as secondary loop, distributed and cascade systems. The program is working on a “lifecycle cost analysis” of advanced refrigeration systems that will enable retailers to compare the overall cost of these systems to that of a conventional DX refrigeration system. EPA is “targeting this year” to complete the analysis, based so far on input from 10 stores, and report its findings to the industry, said Witman. “We are trying to overcome the remaining hurdles to buying advanced refrigeration technology,” especially cost.

Witman’s leadership of the GreenChill program — as well as her presence at trade shows and store award presentations and her welcoming attitude at the EPA — have made her a recognized and admired figure in the industry.

“Keilly Witman has helped Price Chopper through the GreenChill program by aiding us in developing a refrigerant management plan that is measured so that we can continually improve our refrigerant leak rates in existing facilities,” said Benny Smith, vice president of facilities, Price Chopper Supermarkets, Schenectady, N.Y. In addition, he said, she has “helped bring Price Chopper recognition for the advanced refrigeration technology that we apply into some of our new store designs.”