In July 2007, Ed Crenshaw, then president of Publix Super Markets, decided to make sustainability part of the company's culture.
He had recently attended the first Florida Climate Summit and was influenced by what he saw and heard there from other companies. That fall, after Crenshaw was named chief executive officer, sustainability became a “Tier-One” corporate initiative. “Few initiatives reach this level of importance, which sent a clear message that this was high priority for Publix that would be worked on immediately,” said Maria Brous, spokeswoman for Publix, Lakeland, Fla.
The first step was to create a 40-person cross-functional sustainability committee from every department in the company that established a performance baseline and discussed opportunities. At the same time, Publix formed a seven-person Core Committee — chaired by Crenshaw for its first 18 months — to plan and execute strategy. “His level of commitment virtually assured the committee's success,” said Brous.
Last year, Publix added sustainability as a key objective in its Corporate Strategy Map, requiring each business unit to measure its sustainable performance against specific metrics and goals. The 30 associates, called “Sustainability Advocates,” who are responsible for tracking and reporting this performance, now make up the cross-functional sustainability team.
After just two years, sustainability is “firmly embedded into the Publix culture,” said Brous. The 1,008-store chain's commitment to sustainable practices covers a broad range of initiatives, including energy and fuel reduction, recycling vast amounts of material and promoting environmental responsibility with customers, associates and suppliers. Changes have been made in lighting, refrigeration and transportation, and four locations, including Publix's corporate offices, are using solar energy.
The chain is also the only food retailer participating in the Environmental Protection Agency's Climate Leaders program, in which companies pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Publix joined the Climate Leaders program in June 2008 and so far has gathered several years of greenhouse gas emissions data, established a baseline inventory year and written an inventory management plan “to memorialize our greenhouse gas data collection and calculation processes,” said Brous.
Publix, which will announce a five-year greenhouse gas reduction goal later this year, has already reduced electricity usage by over 7% in existing stores and 23% in new store designs. Since 2002, its employee-focused energy conservation efforts alone have saved nearly 940 million kilowatt hours, which equals a reduction of more than 500,000 tons of greenhouse gas.
For these accomplishments, and for making sustainability an integral part of its operation over the past two years, Publix has been selected to receive SN's 2009 Sustainability Excellence Award in the chain category.
One of Publix's earliest forays into environmentalism was its “Get Into a Green Routine” program, started in 2001 to instill conservation habits in the chain's 140,000 employees. Beginning with an emphasis on energy conservation, the program has been extended to waste reduction, recycling and conservation of other resources, including water. “As Florida's largest employer, we believe encouraging our associates to be aware of their consumption habits can make a difference,” said Brous.
Each store has a Green Routine Coordinator who uses a guide that contains conservation activities, tips and hints; the guide will soon become a computer-based training module. Associates also receive suggestions through monthly newsletters, paycheck messaging and the Publix intranet, among other means. Conservation ideas include being cognizant of water usage and watching for leaking fixtures, closing exterior doors and turning off lights, and monitoring cooking cycles to reduce natural and LP gas consumption.
This year, Publix has been refreshing materials in the stores that promote conservation awareness, such as light-switch covers that promote turning off lights, back-door stickers that remind associates to close the door, and posters to help identify what can be recycled. “We are targeting a $4 million [energy savings] goal just through behavior changes,” Brous said.
Another key element is the Green Routine Exception Report that each store receives monthly. The report shows the individual store's energy consumption compared to the previous year.
With the help of employees, Publix has been able to recycle a high percentage of cardboard, paper and plastics, achieving a companywide recycling rate of 42% in 2008. That year, the chain recycled 215,000 tons of cardboard and 6,700 tons of plastic, saving the equivalent of approximately 2.4 million barrels of oil.
Publix also recycles corn crates, pallets, wax cardboard, chipped board and produce liners, as well as up to 2 million floral buckets annually. “By recycling [floral buckets], our company will save as much as half a million cubic feet of landfill space and 5,550 barrels of oil each year,” said Brous. Publix also offers in-store recycling of paper and plastic bags at all of its retail locations.
Publix's policy with private-label providers is that all packaging must be either recycled or recyclable unless there is a food safety reason that prevents it. For example, Publix and its vendors are converting from waxed cardboard shipping boxes to wax alternative boxes that are more recyclable, eliminating the disposal of millions of waxed boxes.
As Publix's Green Routine continues to grow, the chain is reaching beyond its doors to connect with shoppers and others in the community. Its reusable bag initiative, for example, has sold or donated 7.7 million reusable bags since 2007, resulting in an annual reduction of more than 200 million plastic grocery bags.
Publix has also joined the Florida Newspaper in Education Coordinators and other Newspaper in Education Programs throughout the Southeast to bring a sustainability curriculum to sixth grade students in public, private and home schools.
Like many food retailers seeking to save energy costs and help the environment, Publix has upgraded to more efficient lighting technology. In new stores, it has incorporated T5 fluorescent lighting, which cuts energy use by up to a 50%; in several cases, daylighting and dimming are being used to augment the savings.
Existing stores are being retrofitted with state-of-the-art metal halide fixture components to improve lighting quality and generate up to a 50% lighting energy reduction. In addition, track lighting over fresh product areas like produce, deli and bakery is being redesigned to use new high-efficiency lamps that curtail energy consumption by up to 70%.
Publix is also implementing LED (light-emitting diode) technology in new freezer and cooler cases that can reduce energy usage by 50% to 80%. Occupancy sensors are paired with the LED fixtures to turn the lights off when an aisle is unoccupied. To date, more than 70 stores are equipped with LED-lit cases. “We are on the verge of deploying a retrofit project to install the LEDs and motion sensors in 400 more stores,” said Brous. Behind the scenes, Publix just completed a project to retrofit all stores with LED lights in walk-in cooler/freezers.
In its effort to control energy costs, Publix is also exploring sustainable energy sources. It currently has a 25 kilowatt solar photovoltaic system operating at four locations: GreenWise Market, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.; GreenWise Market, Boca Raton, Fla.; a Publix store in Miami Lakes, Fla.; and its corporate offices. Solar laminate panels adhere to the roof of the stores; the corporate office has roof panels as well as a single-axis tracker with crystalline panels.
The solar installations are part of a feasibility pilot undertaken with the Florida Solar Energy Center and several solar integration companies “to determine how best to integrate photovoltaic systems into our retail operations,” said Brous. “The stores in Boca Raton and Palm Beach Gardens have each reached their one-year anniversary date, and our initial projections for system output are in alignment with actual production values.”
In the refrigeration area, Publix in November 2007 was one of the five original chains (along with Food Lion, Hannaford Bros., Giant Eagle and Whole Foods Market) to launch the Environmental Protection Agency's GreenChill Advanced Refrigeration Partnership. The GreenChill program is a cooperative alliance between the EPA and the supermarket industry and other stakeholders to promote advanced technologies and practices that will reduce emissions of ozone-depleting and greenhouse gas refrigerants.
As a GreenChill partner, Publix has agreed to transition to non-ozone-depleting refrigerants, reduce refrigerant charges and emissions, and promote the adoption of advanced refrigeration technology.
With respect to technology, 10 stores operate medium-temperature secondary loop glycol refrigeration systems and one store uses medium-temperature and low-temperature secondary loop systems. Both systems use significantly less refrigerant than a traditional direct-expansion system. Two of the chain's newest prototype stores have been designed to include medium-temperature glycol systems, and a substantial number of those stores are “under construction at this time,” said Brous.
The stores using secondary loop refrigeration also deploy non-ozone-depleting refrigerant (404A and 407A) for low-temperature cases. All new stores are designed to incorporate these refrigerants, as well. For other existing stores, Publix is working with the EPA to develop refrigerant retrofit guidelines.
Transportation is another major sustainability target. In less than two years, Publix have decreased the number of miles traveled by its delivery trucks per week by more than 28,000, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by about 2,500 tons. “We've examined our truck routes to reduce empty miles on the road,” said Brous. “We've also changed the way we load our trailers to put more items on each truck and increase efficient use of truck space.”
Publix is also working to improve the mileage of its fleet. For its 1,200 light duty cars, trucks and vans, “we are moving to using the most efficient traditional car models,” said Brous. “We've also been adding more gas-electric hybrids to our fleet.”
To improve the mileage of its heavy-duty trucks, Publix has worked with truck engineers to determine the best engine and drive-train combinations.
In addition, Publix has added an aerodynamics package to its tractors to help reduce drag and further improve fuel economy.