Gang green

Grocers’ IT departments are helping take the sustainability movement to the next level.

By Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Grocers face pressures from many factions when it comes to going green. Federal regulators, compliance officers, customers and employees are all pushing for carbon footprint reductions.

Historically, the task of meeting sustainability goals has come under the purview of the operations team. However, the IT department is playing an increasingly important role in the move to go green, leading the way in the adoption of systems such as automated climate controls, remote monitoring and software that provide detailed analyses of energy consumption, say industry observers.

“All chains want to optimize high energy consumption and costs,” says Rami Branitzky, senior vice president of sustainability strategy for SAP America, based in Newtown Square, Pa. “However, compliance issues are compelling companies to consider how sustainability could improve health, safety and business operations.”

One critical component of successful green initiatives is the ability to track and measure the impact of various aspects of the operation on sustainability targets.

Overall, equipment is becoming more energy efficient, enabling grocers to focus on the finer points of optimizing energy consumption, such as automated controls and systems for tracking usage patterns. While many factors impact grocers’ energy expenditures, lighting is at the top of the list. “They rely on it for store ambiance, displays and advertising, yet supermarkets are still eager to decrease energy consumption and stay true to their commitment to environmental responsibility,” says Philip Fritz, product manager for LED retail display lighting for East Cleveland, Ohio-based GE Lighting Solutions.

Green Sprouts

While many grocers are investing in energy-efficient cold cases, they want to implement IT architectures that ensure their investments are paying off. For Phoenix-based Sprouts Farmers Market, this includes reliance on the Computer Process Control (CPC) Einstein 2 energy management system from Sidney, Ohio-based Emerson Climate Technologies. The technology is comprised of software and analysis tools that monitor, control and optimize the performance of a company’s electric utilities.

Besides tracking lighting and HVAC systems, Sprouts’ system also monitors all refrigeration case temperatures “and the system will alarm if the temperature rises or goes below the threshold set-point,” explains Jerry Stutler, the grocer’s vice president of construction and facility engineering.

The solution gives store managers access to an electronic map that allows them to monitor equipment performance and indicates any refrigeration trouble. By leveraging Site Manager software from Emerson, Sprouts executives or contractors can also access the EMS from any web-enabled PC or smartphone. The software also allows Sprouts to analyze any set-point or programming changes being made by the contractor.

The system is also linked to Guardian, a third-party alarm monitoring company. “If refrigeration trouble occurs, a signal is sent to Guardian,” he says. “The alarm company will then follow up with a call to Sprouts to keep us abreast of any potential issues.”

In regard to climate control, the system is programmed with zone temperature sensors that control each RTU air conditioner at a desired set-point. The control system will initiate a dehumidification function if humidity rises above 50%. “Carbon dioxide sensors are located on the sales floor and will allow the outside air dampers on the RTU air conditioner units to open when levels rise above the programmed set-point,” Stutler says.

From a lighting perspective, the system has established parameters that enables Sprouts to harvest 66% of sales floor lighting during the daytime if stores are at a desired light level. All lights are shut after hours, with the exception of emergency lights.

Diving into details

With so many energy sources to control across an enterprise, supermarkets often struggle with how to aggregate and analyze this information. “It is a painstaking process when you manually key in collected data into an Excel spreadsheet,” says SAP’s Branitzky. “By automating the data collection and aggregation processes and applying key performance indicators, retailers are in a better position to analyze energy information.”

The company’s sustainability performance management solution helps track and communicate sustainability performance, set goals and monitor green activities. The solution pulls data from other SAP systems, as well as third-party solutions, reducing the amount of time spent tracking down, collating data and creating reports.

A library of key performance indicators, including metrics based on the Global Reporting Initiative standard, enables business users to understand sustainability initiatives’ performance and create and update reports. The centralized platform not only aligns sustainability performance with corporate strategies, risks and process improvements, it also slashes the cost of monitoring sustainability performance, say officials.

SAP’s customers, including retailers, have reduced data collection time by more than 50%. By using a reliable reporting process, companies are also creating more flexible business operations.

“The solution has helped customers eliminate a total of 2.5 million tons of carbon, which equates to a $470 million savings in energy spending,” Branitzky says.

Observers note that grocers are finding additional savings by integrating existing, non-traditionally green technology solutions into their sustainability initiatives. For example, inventory and labor are two of supermarkets’ top cost centers. Many chains are using task management solutions to streamline operations. By using the solution to prioritize operations related to fresh and cold categories however, grocers are in a better position to reduce their energy footprints.

“There needs to be a stronger concern around temperature management of these products,” says Guy Dille, senior vice president and general manager, grocery business unit for Alpharetta, Ga.-based RedPrairie Corp. “If shelf-stable merchandise, sits in back room it’s no big deal. But if frozen or cold merchandise sits, retailers are challenged by rising temperatures and maintenance.”

As temperatures rise, product is in jeopardy of spoiling. To avoid this scenario, many grocers relegate “in limbo” cold merchandise into dedicated glass freezers to get temperatures back in range—a process that consumes additional energy.

Grocers can make this process more efficient by using task management to prioritize the workflow surrounding putting away frozen and cold merchandise. By eliminating the reliance on additional freezer storage, grocers will reduce energy consumption as well as shrink caused by spoilage.

Since task management is an automated process, supermarkets have a platform to reduce paper usage. “If companies can eliminate printing out those tasks and instead revisit and execute tasks delivered on a PC, laptop, smart phone or another web-based handheld device, companies will improve efficiency from a business perspective as well as a green one,” he says. 

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