Supermarkets are upgrading equipment and using eco-friendly materials to gain Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. What they’re finding is that these changes also make good business sense.
By Kim Ann Zimmermann
While getting recognized as An energy saver will get a supermarket some nice press, many are discovering that there are compelling economic rewards in meeting the standards for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.
LEED is an internationally recognized program with four certification levels—certified, silver, gold and platinum—based on the number of points accrued. Points are awarded in the following categories: sustainable site; water efficiency; energy and atmosphere; material and resources; indoor environment quality and design innovation.
It is a highly detailed process that requires extensive recordkeeping to prove that certain standards have been met in the design of a new building or a remodel, but many are finding it is worth the effort and investment.
Because the requirements are fairly extensive, supermarkets are primarily applying for LEED certification in conjunction with new construction, but industry experts expect the attention to turn toward remodels over the next few years.
Many supermarkets that have set their sights on LEED certification are doing so because in addition to the kudos they will receive from the community, they are saving money. Making changes such as installing energy-efficient lighting and using automated temperature controls can help gain points toward LEED certification while having a significant impact on the bottom line.
“It is getting to the point where more and more clients are asking about incorporating LEED certification into their design plans from the very beginning because it makes such good economic sense and it is something they can use as a marketing tool in communication with customers and suppliers,” says Bobby Bias, LEED AP, senior designer for Fairfield, Ohio-based CIP. “Consumers care greatly about the environment and if you can market your store as one that has sustainable design elements, that is a plus.”
While not all of the conversations regarding sustainable design develop into LEED-certified projects, designers are encouraged at the number of supermarkets investigating green alternatives. “While green design is very important to our clients, it is not always about LEED certification,” says Nadine Gerring, creative and marketing director for Design Fabrications, Inc. (D|Fab), based in Madison Heights, Mich., noting that the design firm has two LEED-certified architects. “Grocers want to get their feet wet by testing some things that make good business sense, like reducing their energy and water consumption.”
Simple changes such as swapping vinyl flooring for polished concrete can make a difference in a store’s environmental impact, Gerring says. “It helps on multiple levels. It allows you to reduce, reuse and recycle by using materials that are already on site. In addition, you don’t have the need for flooring, adhesives and energy needed to get them there.”
Seeing the light
She says many supermarkets are making changes that have a maximum impact, such as installing energy efficient lighting and skylights to take advantage of natural light. “These have a fast payback and there are rebate programs that retailers can take advantage of as well,” she says. “They render the products in truer colors and save energy.”
Indeed, LED lighting is popping up in a number of areas in the supermarkets to help earn points toward LEED certification. Jeff Brooks, director of new business development for Largo, Fla.-based ElectraLED, says interest is now expanding beyond using LED lighting in the freezer case. “We think future for LED is now in a lot of other areas,” he said. “We’ve introduced track lighting for wine, produce and bakery areas. These are areas with high energy use and high maintenance and LED helps to reduce both. We’ve been able to reduce costs to less than half while maintaining the integrity of the display and even enhancing it in some cases. LED lighting can bring out colors more and provide a longer shelf life of products because it does not produce as much heat, according to studies.”
Overhead storage, walk-in coolers and freezers are other targets for LED lighting, according to Brooks. “Occupancy sensors can instantly bring the lights to full brightness,” he says.
Refrigeration also plays a role in helping retailers earn their LEED certification. “While many retailers have been looking at refrigeration equipment that can provide significant energy savings and reduce the amount of refrigerant needed, LEED may help move those opportunities to the forefront,” says Howell Feig, director of sales for Hanahan, S.C.-based AHT Cooling Systems USA. “Each of our units has less than 10 ounces of refrigerant, offers significant energy savings and nearly eliminates any type of refrigerant leak.”
Going for platinum
Officials for Scarborough, Maine.-based Hannaford Supermarkets took a holistic approach when they decided to go for platinum LEED certification for a new store in Augusta, Maine. It was the first supermarket to achieve that level of LEED certification when it opened this summer. Hannaford is owned by Delhaize America, the U.S. division of Brussels-based Delhaize Group.
Officials reviewed everything from top—the roof is a layered system of soil and drought-resistant plants to provide insulation—to bottom—water from two geothermal wells located 750 feet underground helps to regulate the building’s temperature—when building the new store.
“We had some good practices in the area of energy and a fair amount of efficiency prior to this project,” says Michael Norton, a Hannaford spokesperson. “While platinum LEED certification is a very high standard to meet, we wanted to stretch ourselves and do something bold. It certainly made us take a very hard look at everything we do and come up with new ways to build and operate a store.”
The LEED journey started demolition of the site, which was an old high school. “There were still some lab tables, desk, books and other things in the school,” Norton says. “We reused or recycled more than 95% of the building’s contents.”
Lighting was an important consideration when designing the store, according to Norton. The store is powered by the largest installation of solar panels in Maine. The 41-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system provides on-site renewable power.
Natural daylight is also used extensively throughout the store. In areas without skylights, a system is used to pipe in natural light. “Natural light took on a much greater role in this store,” Norton says. “On a bright day, natural light supplies all of our lighting needs.”
Refrigeration was also scrutinized, Norton says. One highlight of the store’s innovative features is a state-of-the-art refrigeration system that uses 50% less refrigerant gas than a traditional system. Norton says much of the refrigeration system was customized in-house.
There are also doors on nearly all freezer and refrigerated cases, saving energy and creating a more comfortable in-store temperature for shoppers, he says. While he says there was some concern that customers may be reluctant to open a door, so far that hasn’t been the case. “We’ll continue to monitor it,” he says. “But if the store environment is more comfortable people will also be spending more time.”
There is also a lot of automation behind the scenes to keep the temperatures and lighting at optimal levels, he says. Danfoss, based in Baltimore, Md., supplied the building automation system for heating, cooling and lighting controls. Portland, Maine-based Advance Electronic Concepts supplied motion sensors for the cases and a relay system that supports putting different cases on common system.
Many of the fixtures and counters, such as in the deli service area, are made of recycled glass. “It looks like granite or similar material, but we used as much recycled material as possible,” Norton says. “The goal was to have something that looks upscale but not so drastically different from the material used in a typical supermarket. We want to deliver what our customers expect, but with a dramatically lower environmental impact.”
Norton says the parking lot is also paved with recycled material and includes designated spaces for energy-efficient vehicles and car pool participants. “If you take a close look at it, it appears slightly lighter in color than the typical parking lot, but for the most part people are not going to notice and we find customers are pleased when they learn how much recycled material we were able to use in many aspects of the store.”
Other highlights include:
- Paints and finishes used throughout the store contain minimal levels of volatile organic compounds, resulting in healthier air for associates and shoppers.
- Increased fresh air exchange and clean ventilation system allow for healthier air to be brought into and circulated throughout the store.
- By using low-flow toilets, faucets and ice-free freezer cases, the new store will reduce water usage by more than 38%, when compared to a typical grocery store.
“While we don’t plan to obtain platinum LEED certification for every store, we will use this store as a learning laboratory to test new technologies, programs and products that can be leveraged at other Hannaford stores,” Norton says.
Another member of the Delhaize family—Tampa-based Sweetbay Supermarket—is in the process of seeking LEED certification for its new store in Tarpon Springs, Fla, but the retailer is already realizing efficiencies.
“We are still awaiting our LEED certification—there is a lot of data that needs to be documented, collected and presented—but we’re excited and confident that our efforts have paid off,” says Chasity Scoggins, design project manager and LEED-certified engineer.
The store was built on an old mobile home site, and Scoggins says they recycled as much of the material as possible. They recycled as much of the packaging for the building materials that were shipped to the site in addition to using energy-efficient transportation to get them there and buying as much as possible from local sources. “This all gains us points toward LEED certification and helps us refine our practices going forward,” she says.
Improving air quality was a big focus of the new store design, she says. “We did a lot to monitor indoor air quality during construction and before occupancy so that the air quality would be the best it could be when the store opened,” she says. “We used low-emitting material during construction, including adhesives, sealants and paints. It doesn’t have that ‘new store’ smell.” The air conditioning units bring in 30% more air than standard units, providing improved ventilation and better air quality, she says.
They also took steps to improve outdoor air quality. “We focused on energy-efficient transportation,” she says. There are preferred parking’s spaces for low-emission, fuel-efficient vehicles. Plus, there are spaces for car and vanpool. “The store is also near several bus lines and of the stops was relocated to drop passengers off in front of the store.”
A computer simulation model helped identify energy savings, Scoggins says. “We’ve got night shades on the cold cases and doors on dairy cases as well as LED and motion-sensitive lighting in the cases,” she says. “These things helped us become 22% more efficient in this store in terms of energy use.”
When designing the Tarpon Springs store, they also made push to conserve as much water as possible by using, among other things, low-flow toilets and faucets. The toilets use reclaimed water. “Florida has strict water use guidelines, so that already spurred us toward water conservation,” she says. “We were able to work with the city of Tarpon Springs on the use of reclaimed water and that worked out very well.”
Official word about the store’s LEED status is expected early this year.