While the supermarket industry has had a long, sometimes contentious relationship with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, that relationship has undergone a change in the past year — a change for the better, most observers would say.
The biggest sign of that change was the advent of the EPA’s GreenChill Advanced Refrigeration Partnership with the supermarket industry, which officially launched last November. The voluntary partnership now has 28 participants, including 19 supermarket companies.
The retailers participating in GreenChill, including Food Lion, Giant Eagle and the Supervalu retail divisions, have agreed to share their refrigerant leak data with the EPA as well as develop plans and test technologies to reduce those emissions, which contribute either ozone-depleting or greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.
“We are very encouraged by [the GreenChill program] and hope other regulatory bodies will look at this as a success story,” said Tim Hammonds, chief executive officer, Food Marketing Institute, Arlington, Va. “The model for regulatory agencies has tended to be one of inspect and fine, but this is truly a cooperative program with a goal of developing best practices for the industry.”
Hammonds gives Stephen Johnson, the EPA’s administrator, credit for allowing the GreenChill program to go forward. “No agency undertakes a project like this without leadership from the top,” he said. A scientist by training who has been with the EPA for 28 years, Johnson became the agency’s top official in May 2005.
Julius Banks, the EPA’s team leader, Alternatives and Emissions Reduction Branch, who has worked directly with the supermarket industry for several years, acknowledged being surprised that food retailers “were willing to talk to us in a different way and be so forthcoming” in their participation in GreenChill.
GreenChill is not the first EPA program to attract the participation of food retailers. Retailers such as Food Lion, Giant Eagle and Stop & Shop have made a major commitment to the EPA’s Energy Star program, which certifies buildings and organizations that have achieved high levels of energy efficiency. Smart-Way, the EPA’s transportation efficiency program, has signedon such retailers as Wal-Mart Stores and Hannaford Bros.
In addition to their environmental benefit, food retailers have come to appreciate the cost-saving aspects of these programs, as well as their marketing appeal to consumers. “Consumers want to do business with companies that care about the environment,” said Keilly Witman, communication specialist, Office of Atmospheric Programs.
Of course, retailers still need to be cognizant of not violating the EPA’s rules on leaks, which require retailers to remedy within 30 days refrigeration systems with an annual leak rate of 35% or more. EPA will be proposing a new rule by early 2009 that will set a lower maximum leak rate, among other changes, Banks said.
Retailers will also face a tightening of supplies and a rise in prices for R-22 refrigerant in 2010, when it will no longer be produced or imported for new refrigeration systems.
— MICHAEL GARRY