Whether they are seeking LEED or GreenChill certification or just becoming more environmentally friendly, grocers are investing in energy-efficient equipment and designs.
By Kim Ann Zimmermann
While many grocers want to wear the “green” badge of honor to impress their customers and reduce their energy expenses, it has not always been easy to reconcile the additional upfront costs of energy-efficient equipment and sustainable design with the bottom line. That is changing, according to industry experts, and changing rapidly.
Equipment manufacturers say sustainability is driving product development, making systems even more efficient and affordable.
“Green and sustainability are priorities and the platform around which all of our new products in our pipeline are evaluated,” says Tres Brown, vertical market vice president-retail, for Ingersoll Rand, based in Davidson, N.C.
The company’s brands include Hussmann, Trane and Thermo King. “You will see that demonstrated throughout our entire existing product portfolio, including MicroChannel condensers, Protocol distributed systems, LED lighting and alternative refrigerant system platforms to support mediums such as CO2 and ammonia. As more new products are introduced, we would expect green/sustainability to become a more pronounced design element or featured benefit.”
In the past, supermarkets that wanted to go the extra mile and make their commitment to sustainability official with a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) designation from the U.S. Green Building Council, faced additional challenges. They needed to provide a lot of documentation, even if they were using the same equipment and materials in multiple locations. Also, the rating system did not take into account many of the energy-efficient equipment used by grocers, such as cooking appliances and refrigeration systems. That is changing as well.
“Our new LEED for Retail and LEED Volume Program are direct responses to the needs of the retail community and in particular grocers,” says Nick Shaffer, manager of the commercial real estate sector for the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Green Building Council.
He says the new LEED for Retail consists of two rating systems—one for new construction and major renovations and a second for remodels. He says the ratings have been tailored to meet the specific needs of a retail facility.
“While the original LEED rating system looks at office space and buildings, retail facilities have a different level occupancy and a different type of space,” he says. “These changes are not drastic, but they build on the foundation. They recognize the differences of a retailer environment versus an office building and retailers achieve recognition for energy efficient appliances, cooking equipment and refrigeration systems, among other criteria.”
The new rating systems take the retailer’s physical systems, including equipment, design and land use, into account. It also factors in customer and employee satisfaction, Shaffer says.
“The best advice I could give a retailer who wanted to work toward a store that is efficient and environmentally friendly is to get the right professionals involved early in the process and allow enough planning time to do what it takes to understand what the goals are for the project, what is available in the market place to achieve those goals, what the requirements are for inspections, paperwork, and approvals, what the costs are, what the benefits will be and the expected payback,” says Steve Mehmert, president of Sussex, Wis.-based Mehmert Store Services.
Industry experts say that retailers need to clearly state their sustainable goals to their entire team—architects, designers, contractors and project managers—at the start of the project. “For example, are the main goals energy and water savings, or is the project going to include materials and finishes that are sustainable and benefit indoor air quality?,” says Nadine Gering, creative and marketing director for D|Fab, a design firm based in Madison Heights, Mich. “Also, it is imperative that a retailer establish their project budget based on lifecycle costs of systems and construction materials, rather than initial costs, to truly realize the benefit to many sustainable options that are available.”
Worth the effort
While the LEED certification process was involved, Matt Paul, a spokesperson for Hannaford Supermarkets, based in Scarborough, Maine, says it is worthwhile. The company opened its first LEED store in Augusta, Maine in July 2009 and plans to open more going forward, he says.
“We realize that building a store in and of itself is not an environmentally friendly act,” he says. “Our goal is to have as little impact as possible. The Augusta store is heated and cooled by geothermal wells on the property. We have reduced the amount of water we use for misting and in the restrooms, saving thousands of gallons of water every day. We incorporated as much daylight as we can, reducing our dependence on electricity.”
In addition, he says the stores has a state-of-the-art GreenChill refrigeration system, which uses 50% less refrigerant gas than a traditional system, and doors on nearly all freezer and refrigerated cases.
Know where to look
When seeking out ways to reduce their impact on the environment, areas such as refrigeration and lighting are logical targets, according to industry experts. “We know that for grocery retailers the biggest energy hogs are the refrigeration system, the mechanical systems, such as the heating and air conditioning and the electrical systems, including lighting and signage,” says Sam Khalilieh, senior vice president for architectural and engineering Services for Dublin, Ohio-based WD Partners. “Ninety-three percent and 94% of electric and gas use, respectively, come from three major areas and that is where most efforts should be focused to reduce operating costs. You’ve got to provide comfort and an enjoyable shopping experience, but there are a lot of different and smart ways to achieve those goals.”
Since it is such a huge part of a supermarket’s operating costs, and there are mandates regarding the switch to sustainable refrigerants, many grocers have focused their efforts on refrigeration.
“Sustainable refrigeration systems really representlow-hanging fruit an opportunity for grocers to have an impact on global warming very quickly while doing what is right and ultimately profitable for their businesses and customers,” says Keilly Witman, manager of the GreenChill Partnership at the Environmental Protection Agency, based in Washington, D.C.
Among the grocers obtaining GreenChill certification is El Segundo, Calif.-based Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market, which opened what officials describe as the first grocery store in Southern California to use naturally occurring CO2 refrigeration. The store, located in Rosemead, is using equipment from Columbus, Ga.-based Kysor/Warren.
The system, which is one of only four in the U.S., reduces the impact of the store’s refrigeration on the ozone layer by about 70%, as compared to industry standards. By using a natural refrigerant, the system has an approximately 50% lower global warming potential than traditional refrigerants, according to company officials.
Last fall Fresh & Easy opened two GreenChilll-certified stores using Kysor/Warren equipment. “It has been an amazing program to work with from the beginning,” says Brendan Wonnacott, a spokesperson for the retailer. The features include energy-efficient doors on freezer and dairy cases; triple-pane glass with an anti-fog coating on refrigerator doors to eliminating the need for door heaters to prevent icing or fogging; night curtains on refrigerators to conserve energy while keeping product at the appropriate temperature when stores are closed; and LED lighting in all chilled cases.
“We’re seeing a growing interest among retailers in LEED and GreenChill certification,” says George Parsons, vice president of engineering and product development for Kysor/Warren. “Using refrigerant that is environmentally friendly and using less of it can have a great impact on the environment with very little to no impact on performance. Depending on the configuration of the system, the performance in some cases is even enhanced.”
Dan O’Brien, national sales manager for Zero Zone, based in North Prairie, Wis., says refrigerants with lower global warming potential are the new standard. “It’s where grocers can really have the largest impact,” he explains. He points to the company’s Crystal Merchandiser, which uses 50% to 80% less energy. The medium-temperature reach-in case has 74-inch doors, which company officials say provides maximum product visibility.
He says supermarkets are looking for simple swaps that will allow them to save energy without compromising merchandising or customer satisfaction. “A simple move such as putting dairy behind doors can save a lot of money,” he says.
Variable speed motors are also improving the efficiency of refrigeration systems, making them more environmentally friendly. “Variable speed motors provide substantial savings,” says Dustan Atkinson, product manager for Heatcraft Refrigeration Products, based in Stone Mountain, Ga. “A reduction in fan speed of even 10% can have a significant impact.”
Lights are another big target draw on energy consumption, especially in the refrigerated and frozen cases.
Nualight Ltd., a Charlotte, N.C.-based manufacturer of light emitting diode (LED) lighting solutions to the global food retail sector, recently announced the launch of a more energy efficient line of glass door lighting. The company’s LED lights have been used in Kysor/Warren cases.
With wattages for center mullions at 16 watts and end mullions at 8.5 watts, company officials say the Porto 600 line is one of the lowest energy usage LEDs on the market—as much as a third lower than wattage reported for similar products—resulting in energy reductions from 60% to 70%. He says the Porto 600 can be installed with only one 100-watt driver, even on five-door cases, resulting in faster installation, lower installation costs and a more immediate return on investment.
“There are no more dead spots in merchandising cases,” says Paul Kelly, vice president of business development for Nualight. “We can tune the lights to the desired color, type of packaging, profile of packaging and even the texture of packaging. LEDs seamlessly integrate other sustainable features of store and integrate other digital technologies.”
According to Bryan Warner, vice president of sales for Largo, Fla.-based ElectraLED, LEDs offer grocers two opportunities for savings. They use fewer watts—about 20 watts versus 70 watts from a fluorescent. In addition, they produce less heat.
He says that every one watt saved from traditional lighting that is retrofitted to LED in a cold climate, it will save an additional half-watt on the compressor load. Outside of the freezers, LEDs gain 0.25 watts in cooling the store because of the reduced heat output.
While many supermarkets are investigating LED lighting for a number of areas—cases, overhead lighting, signage and even parking lot lights—some experts say that they may not be the right fit for every application.
“When a supermarket is trying to qualify for LEED certification, they have an energy usage ceiling, and once that ceiling is presented, virtually every store designer is going to create a lighting plan that utilizes a level of energy that is close to that ceiling without exceeding it,” says Lee Rhoades, director of sales and marketing for St. Louis-based BAERO North America.
He explains that if the energy usage ceiling is 1.5 watts per square foot, a light source such as LED that offers about 52 lumens per watt would deliver a total of 78 lumens per square foot, while another light source offering 104 lumens per watt would deliver 156 lumens per square foot.
“Technology will keep evolving, but supermarkets have to remain focused on building the best displays and presentations for their customers,” he says.