While just about every major retailer is changing its operations to become more sustainable and environmentally benign, some companies particularly stand out. Among these is U.K-based Tesco, which earlier this year was ranked second in the world (after fellow U.K. retailer Marks & Spencer) in overall environmental performance by consultant Five Winds International and Greenbiz.com.
Moreover, earlier this year, Tesco became the first supermarket chain to assign a “carbon rating” to everything it sells, creating an index to measure the carbon required to produce, transport and consume each product. Customers can incorporate the rating into their purchasing decisions.
In the U.S., Tesco's subsidiary Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market, El Segundo, Calif., which opens its 168th store this week, is carrying forward this keen attention to the environment. Since launching its first small-format, private-label-focused grocery outlet in November 2007, the chain has invested far more than the average retailer in energy-saving and recycling. “We've worked hard to make sure we are thoughtful in the impact we have on the environment,” said Tim Mason, Fresh & Easy's chief executive officer in a statement earlier this month.
For example, in 2007, Fresh & Easy spent $13 million on a 500,000-square-foot solar roof installation - one of the largest in California - at its 88-acre distribution and manufacturing center in Riverside, Calif. A live report on the amount of energy the solar panels produce is available at freshandeasy.com/greenbuilding; last week, the panels were reported to be producing 20% of the distribution center's energy needs.
At its stores, located in California, Arizona and Nevada, Fresh & Easy uses about 30% less energy than a typical supermarket, according to Southern California Edison's Savings by Design program. “We pass that savings to our customers,” said Roberto Munoz, Fresh & Easy's neighborhood affairs director. This year, the chain has continued to roll out a series of environmental initiatives at the store level:
Last week the chain announced the return of its reusable bag giveaway, offering free canvas bags this month to customers who spend $20 or more; coupons for the bags are available on the chain's Facebook page. Since 2007, Fresh & Easy has given away more than 600,000 reusable bags.
Earlier this month, Fresh & Easy opened the first supermarket in Southern California to operate a subcritical cascade refrigeration system using carbon dioxide as a refrigerant. The store, in Rosemead, Calif., also earned the chain's first silver certification award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's GreenChill Partnership for cutting refrigerant leaks. A store opening this week in Oceanside, Calif., is also receiving a silver certification award.
Last month, Fresh & Easy announced a plan to reduce water consumption in its stores by 30% by using EnviroTower water conditioning technology. The system, which treats water used in refrigeration and cooling systems, had already been installed in 37 outlets and is being incorporated into all new stores. It also reduces the amount of energy used in refrigeration by up to 5%.
In July, the chain said it was expanding its “Farm to Store in 24” program, bringing more produce from California farms to its stores in less than 24 hours.
For its overall commitment to sustainability, manifested in a series of new initiatives this year, Fresh & Easy has been selected as the winner of the SN 2010 Sustainability Excellence Award in the chain category.
Fresh &Easy has been able to use about 30% less energy than a typical supermarket by “doing a lot of little things that add up to something significant,” said Munoz. For example, the chain puts more insulation than usual in stores to reduce heating and air conditioning usage. It uses high-efficiency LED lighting in external signs and freezer cases, and this year completed the retrofitting of medium temperature Kysor/Warren cases in all of its stores with LED lighting from Nualight.
Lighting costs are also reduced by means of multiple skylights at about half of the chain's stores. The skylights are designed to maximize the light while minimizing the heat coming into the store. (See “Skylights Continue to Mark Fresh & Easy's Décor,” SN, Aug. 9, 2010.)
A number of energy-saving steps have been taken for refrigerated cases, including triple-plane glass with an anti-fog coating on refrigerator doors, which eliminate the need for door heaters for icing or fogging; night curtains on cases to conserve energy while keeping product at the appropriate temperature when stores are closed; and sliding doors on coffin cases that cut energy usage by 45% compared to open cases.
In addition, for medium- and low-temperature cases, Fresh & Easy stores employ secondary loop refrigeration systems from Kysor/Warren and Hill Phoenix; these use 10% less energy than conventional units, said Munoz.
In terms of impact on the atmosphere, the Rosemead's store's cascade refrigeration system - one of only four installed in U.S. supermarkets - reduces the effect on the ozone layer by about 70% compared to industry standards and has about 50% lower global warming potential than traditional refrigerants.
“We're moving in a different direction to try and use new technology to [produce] less greenhouse gases,” said Munoz. To that end, Fresh & Easy also joined the EPA's GreenChill partnership last year, committing to reduce refrigerant emissions; its leak rate last year was “well under 10%,” the company said, compared to an industry average of about 25%.
A year ago, Fresh & Easy opened its first store to receive LEED gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. The store, in Cathedral City, Calif., was recognized for low energy and water usage, lighting efficiency, and using 90% recycled steel in the building's structure. The chain is also a pilot member of the LEED Volume Certification Program, which will certify multiple LEED stores based on a prototype store passing muster. Fresh & Easy's prototype has not yet opened, but once it does, “every building opened to that spec” will be LEED certified, said Munoz.
The company's energy initiatives extend to transportation as well. For example, it uses hybrid refrigeration trailers that plug in electrically at the distribution center during loading and unloading instead of using diesel fuel. Its district managers drive a Prius while traveling between stores.
On the recycling front, 90% of waste from Fresh & Easy stores is diverted from landfills, said Munoz. For example, last year, the chain announced it had reused more than 2 million plastic display trays - which hold product on store shelves - by passing them through an ultra violet light sanitizing machine. The machine is operated by Resource Management Group, San Diego, which works at Fresh & Easy's DC to recycle and reuse tons of material collected at stores including cardboard, paper, plastic shrink wrap, pallets, totes, crates and hand baskets.
At stores, recycling is available for plastic bottles, aluminum, plastic bags and glass. And every store has a food bank partner to which edible food that has reached its expiration date is donated. Stores use eco-friendly cleaning products to clean the enamel-coated concrete floors.
The company works with its private label suppliers - who produce most of its food products - to minimize the amount of material used in packaging. “They use as much as they need for the food to be safe,” said Munoz. Packaging is labeled so that shoppers know how to recycle it.
Fresh & Easy's extensive reusable bag program offers four different types of bags, with a new bag design resulting from a contest in August that generated 1,300 submissions. The chain gives away magnets reminding shoppers to bring their bags. Standard plastic bags are made from 50% recycled material and are designed to be larger and sturdier than conventional bags.
“We've always believed the best option is a reusable bag and we're excited to see more and more customers use them,” said Munoz.