THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST IS FAMOUS for its huge tracts of scented pines and towering fir trees. Now, C&K Market hopes its efforts in the region will add to the greenery.
The 60-store chain, headquartered in Brookings, Ore., has established a special department devoted to making the independent operator a leader in caring for the environment.
Working with energy providers, C&K officials were able to develop a list of goals and best practices that will help each store reduce its environmental impact, and become more energy efficient in the process. It's a complicated, multistep program that the retailer is not shying away from.
“No one in our world [of local independents] has anything along this level of commitment,” said Dan Cepeda, the company's director of marketing. “It's satisfying to know we're doing our part.”
To head up the new department, the company has tapped Robin Kovach. She'll move from her present position as director of natural/specialty foods to become the chain's first-ever director of sustainability and environmental impact.
“Robin was a natural [to run this department] and convinced me that we needed to be responsible as a corporation and act that way,” said Greg Sandeno, chief operating officer of C&K, which operates three banners — Ray's Food Place, Price Less Foods and Shop Smart.
Kovach's immediate goals are to conserve energy, reuse and recycle. “What needs the most attention is energy conservation and reduction,” she said.
To determine best practices, C&K is working with Energy Smart and Energy Trust, entities created by Northwestern gas and power suppliers to help companies and households increase awareness of conservation. Energy Smart — a store auditing program that boasts $11 million in annual energy savings since its creation in 2002 — has already developed five initiatives for C&K's 38 Oregon stores that would reduce first-year energy costs by up to $282,000. Add in recycling and lighting, and that figure could come close to $1 million, said Kovach, who calls the five initiatives her “bible.” They are: energy savings, recycling, green supplies, marketing and employee training.
C&K will start by implementing these initiatives in its corporate office and the nearby Brookings store, where even a cursory review of operations revealed obvious issues to remedy. Employees will be reminded to turn off lights and computers, and offices will be lighted by energy-efficient bulbs, said Cepeda.
These locations will serve as part of a pilot program to determine the efficacy of the new procedures. The process has revealed some surprises. For example, C&K has found that turning dual fluorescent lamps in a store off and on actually uses more electricity than leaving them on.
Next, the company will analyze every machine, from the refrigerators to the HVAC. Machines that are inefficient will be sent to a recycling plant and replaced with newer models. Those that simply need updating will be refurbished with new parts, according to Kovach. For example, gaskets and covers on freezers will be replaced; motors and switches will be installed that turn machines off or idle them when they're not in prime operating time; and air curtains will be installed to conserve energy in cold storage areas.
Kovach said she hopes these changes will be implemented by the end of this year, with all stores in the chain 80% compliant within five years.
The optimistic timeline comes with a hefty price tag for an independent. C&K's initial investment into “greening” itself will require a capital outlay of roughly $200,000, with additional expenses in the future. However, the company has strong incentives, too. Utility providers are helping to offset many equipment upgrades through grants. They also have programs that fund third-party repairs and maintenance. One of the utility partnerships, Energy Smart, actually works as a bridge between the retailer and the energy companies to find such offers. Finally, the state of Oregon offers a 35% tax credit to any company that undertakes environmental upgrades.
Even with the assistance, C&K will be forced to rearrange some priorities to accommodate the changes. Sandeno noted that some store remodels will be postponed, saving around $100,000 per store, so the money can be put toward sustainability. Locating internal savings is already a large part of Kovach's job.
“She's been pouring hours into it since she took this position,” said Cepeda.
C&K already operates two stores equipped with energy-efficient technology. At a Ray's Food Place in La Pine, Ore., more than three dozen skylights have created energy savings of at least 30%. Another Ray's in Bend, Ore., has solar panels on the roof, and the retailer is currently measuring their impact on electric use.
Customers are an integral part of the umbrella program. Recycling stations will be set up at each store and customers who return plastic or paper bags will be entered into weekly drawings.
Reusable bags will also be available for purchase, and Kovach plans to make these fun, with designs that change every two months or so. To encourage customers to use them wherever they go, the bags won't likely have the Ray's name on them; rather, they'll likely feature a discreet “R” logo.
The company has also designed a recycle emblem that incorporates the “R” in Ray's. The moniker will be used on any recycled packaging, such as butcher and deli paper, so that customers can recognize C&K's efforts in action.
Employees, too, will be encouraged to recycle. Information will be included in the training manual and training programs, while posters and brochures will anchor the marketing campaign in the back of the house.
And the plans extend beyond the company. C&K wants to entice the vendor community via free publicity in the retailer's literature. Advertisements and newsletters will include information about any good work the suppliers do for the environment.