LEEDing the way to sustainability

Following the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED guidelines for sustainable  building makes sense for the environment. It is increasingly making sense for retailers’ bottom line as well.

As environmentally friendly building materials and practices become more affordable, there is no longer a huge premium for grocers that want to go green. Many supermarkets are making an effort to use sustainable materials in new construction and remodels, and an increasing number are getting their projects certified by the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.

Schenectady, N.Y.-based Price Chopper is among the supermarkets that are finding value in obtaining LEED certification. The grocer has nine registered supermarket projects and three stores that have already received LEED certification, says Bill Sweet, vice president, construction and engineering. In addition, the retailer’s new corporate headquarters is up for gold certification.

“Five years ago, some of the materials, such as vinyl flooring made with recycled content, were a 15% premium,” says Sweet. “Now, you pay 2% to 3% more overall in construction costs. When you weigh that against the efficiency and impact on guest comfort levels and other benefits, it makes sense to adopt LEED as a best practice. It is a true paradigm shift and much of it is now part of what we do as our standard when it comes to new construction and remodels.”

The USGBC has been working to make the process easier and less expensive for grocers, says Nick Shaffer, LEED manager for the Washington, D.C.-based USGBC. He says that many supermarkets have taken advantage of the streamlined process for organizations doing a number of LEED projects.

“Ahold and Fresh & Easy are taking advantage of our volume program,” he says. “We look at a company’s processes and prototypes and can pre-certify them so that the process is streamlined when they are submitting a number of projects for certification.”

According to Shaffer, there are currently 134 supermarkets registered or certified under the program. “Participation is definitely growing as supermarkets recognize that energy efficiency and other components of the program will ultimately make them stronger from an environmental and financial standpoint. Being environmentally conscious is just the way they do things now. Sustainability is not just some extra project but it is core to their business practices.”

He says that LEED for Retail, which was rolled out about a year ago, tweaked the guidelines to better reflect the retail environment. “The original LEED program was developed primarily with offices in mind, where there are employees eight hours a day, but many retail environments have employees around the clock as well as customers streaming in for short periods throughout the day.”

Even retailers who choose not to obtain LEED certification are moving toward environmentally friendly building standards, say industry observers. “Even when they are not aiming to obtain LEED certification for whatever their business reasons, we have a number of clients who are looking to follow the intent of LEED and talking a lot about sustainability,” says Sam Khalilieh, senior vice president for architecture and engineering for WD Partners, a design firm based in Dublin, Ohio.

While sustainable design does yield energy savings, Khalilieh says the desire to provide a better shopping experience for customers and a better work environment for employees are among the reasons more supermarkets are going green. “They want better air quality, which is a focus of LEED, and that provides an environment where people want to spend more time shopping and things such as putting doors on refrigerated cases make it a more comfortable experience.”

If marketing a corporate philosophy of sustainability is the goal and the cost to gain certification has been weighed, there are many benefits of a LEED-certified building or project, say observers.

“A careful evaluation should be done to determine the marketing benefits of the certification versus the cost,” says Steve Mehmert, president of Mehmert Store Services, a design firm based in Sussex, Wis. “If declaring sustainable practices relates strongly enough to the demographic of the customer base around the store, the LEED process can certainly be a tremendously valuable tool.”

Since refrigeration is a large component of grocers’ carbon footprints, Shaffer says there is a move to provide credit to grocers who have gone through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s GreenChill certification for environmentally friendly refrigeration systems.
“It is in the third public comment period and we are fine-tuning things a bit, but we are excited about the synergies with the LEED program,” says Keilly Witman, GreenChill program manager for the Washington, D.C.-based based EPA. “More than 7,300 stores belong to the GreenChill Partnership, a full 20% of the supermarket industry.”

Adding doors on medium temperature cases may be applicable to every product and every store, Khalilieh says, but it is a move supermarkets should consider as they assess their sustainability efforts. “The proper door selection, using a minimal frame, LED lighting, electronically commutated motors, tax incentives, the right product behind these doors and the proper messaging to consumers, it is a win-win-win for everyone,” he says. “And for those retailers pursuing LEED certification, they will be handsomely rewarded with LEED points, but most importantly they will be able to back up their sustainability message with actions that truly make a difference.”

Mitch Pearson, account manager for Hussmann, the Bridgeton, Mo.-based manufacturer of refrigeration equipment, says the company is committed to GreenChill. So much so that Pearson received the EPA GreenChill 2011 Distinguished Partner Award during the 2011 Food Marketing Institute’s recent Energy & Store Development Conference.

“When you put it in terms that the average supermarket has a 20% leak rate, or about 400 pounds of refrigerant, and they have to sell almost 80,000 gallons of milk to replace that refrigerant, it has an impact,” says Pearson.

Price Chopper participates in the LEED and GreenChill programs and has partnered with Conyers, Ga.-based Hill PHOENIX on CO2-based refrigeration systems for its stores. Hill PHOENIX designs and manufactures commercial refrigerated display cases and specialty products, refrigeration systems, integrated power distribution systems and walk-in coolers and freezers. Price Chopper also worked with Kysor/Warren, a Columbus, Ga.-based equipment manufacturer, putting glass doors on its dairy cases.

One of the retailer’s new stores designed and engineered for silver-level LEED certification is a 60,000-square-foot store opened this summer in Chenango Bridge, N.Y.

Sweet says the Chenango Bridge store has skylights that are incorporated into the roof to allow for natural light to flood the store. Sensors detect when or if electric lighting is needed to supplement the natural light. Freezers and cases are lit with LED bulbs, which burn brightly while consuming less energy and last longer than traditional fluorescent bulbs and glass doors in these departments keep the temperature comfortable.

Sweet says that Price Chopper uses LED lighting from several manufacturers, including Fairfield, N.J.-based Amerlux and Largo, Fla.-based ElectraLED. “This has also impacted shrink, as LED lights have less of an impact on produce and other perishables,” he adds.
Although lighting accounts for up to 40% of the energy consumption in a commercial building, observers say eco-friendly lighting alone does not gain a significant amount of LEED points. “For grocery stores, lighting can often be second to refrigeration in terms of energy consumption,” says Leigh (Forrester) Savage, LEED-certified national accounts manager for East Cleveland, Ohio-based GE Lighting Solutions. “However, energy efficient lighting can drastically reduce the overall power and maintenance bills of a facility by decreasing load on the circuits and decreasing refrigeration needs.”

The company recently introduced the Immersion RV40 LED series for vertical cases. This new system helps retailers cut annual operating costs while enhancing the visual appeal of their merchandise. GE’s energy-saving Immersion RV40 LED lighting system, reduces energy consumption for case lighting by up to 85% when compared to a T12HO fluorescent lamp, according to company officials.

While energy efficiency is one aspect of LEED certification, retailers are also rewarded for improving indoor air quality, say observers.

“The Air Pear system is an efficient and cost‐effective destratification product, replacing traditional ceiling and warehouse fans,” says Duke DiPane, sales and marketing consultant for Longmont, Colo.-based Airus, maker of the Air Pear. “[The Air Pear] improves air quality as well as helps dispel some of the relative humidity to eliminate fogging and sweating.”

It also makes the environment more comfortable for shoppers, he says. “The Air Pear air increases air speed in the store,” he adds. “This has as a cooling effect on people and equipment in the summer, enabling supermarkets to raise their thermostats while keeping shoppers comfortable. In the winter, it has same effect in the opposite direction, as thermostats can be lowered as the Air Pear harvests heat trapped in the ceiling and pushes it down.”

Another way to improve air quality is to use materials that have low emissions of volatile organic compound (VOCs).

“You really don’t want to use a product that has an odor with food and people around,” says Edward van de Krol, global marketing manager for DSM Functional Materials, an Elgin, Ill.-based maker of the UVolve line of low-VOC floor coverings. “One simple choice to improve a facility’s sustainability profile and obtain LEED credits is to improve indoor air quality through the use of near-zero VOC floor coatings. Indoor air quality is often much worse than outdoor air quality due to toxins contained in paint, walls, furniture, clothing, etc. Many cleaning and maintenance products also emit toxic gases, such as VOCs and formaldehyde. These gases can have a detrimental impact on occupants’ health, as well as their productivity.”

In terms of air quality and energy savings, it is also important to keep outdoor air from coming in, which happens frequently at the loading dock.

“The loading dock is not often thought of when it comes to energy savings and efficiency, but there is a lot of low-hanging fruit when it comes to energy savings that can be had when buttoning up the back door,” says Steve Sprunger, senior vice president of 4Front Engineered Solutions.

The Carrollton, Texas-based company manufacturers loading dock systems, including dock levelers, dock seals and shelters, energy efficient HVLS fans, impactable dock doors and LED dock lights under the Kelley, Serco and TKO Dock Door brands. The company recently introduced several products, including a Clear Vision Panel option that allows natural sunlight to pour into the dock area and TKO Verticool dock door, designed to work in conjunction with vertical dock levelers to save energy.

Sprunger says that Northtgate Market, an Anaheim, Calif.-based supermarket chain, used 4Front Engineered Solutions’ Kelly Air Bag dock levelers at the loading docks to achieve LEED certification in its distribution center.

“We use thermal imaging to show where energy is being lost,” he says. “Not everyone we work with is going for LEED certification, but these are common sense energy-saving strategies that can help any retailer.”

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