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Case Study: Cutting costs

Retailers turn to energy efficiency in tough economic times

PCC will switch its seafood trays from Styrofoam to
    palm fiber and other materials. - Photo courtesy of PCC Natural Markets
By Lisa Duchene
July 01, 2008

To keep perishable products like seafood cold, refrigeration units remove heat from the surrounding air, then typically release it. And as part of a growing trend among supermarkets to go green, some grocery stores are putting that heat to good use.

At a PCC Natural Markets store in Redmond, Wash., a custom-built refrigeration system that chills seafood captures heat to warm water for hand washing and cleaning and to help heat the store in winter.

"We're not paying a cent for heating hot water or heating the building," says George Ostrow, an architect with Velocipede, a Seattle firm that has been designing PCC stores for 14 years. "All we're doing is paying for cooling the food."

PCC's Redmond store opened in May 2006 and in July 2007 attained gold certification under the non-profit U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). The voluntary program sets standards for high-performance, environmentally sustainable buildings in five areas: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials and resource selection and 
indoor environmental quality. Buildings earn points for various features and the total number determines the certification level: certified, silver, gold or platinum.

The 23,000-square-foot Redmond store uses half the energy of a comparable store, says Ostrow. PCC is building its ninth location in Edmonds, Wash., which is scheduled to open this August and is designed to qualify for platinum LEED certification.

LEED-certified supermarkets are an emerging trend. Fifty-six grocery stores have attained LEED certification: five under new construction and 51 within existing buildings.

Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle opened the first LEED-certified supermarket in Brunswick, Ohio, in 2004, an 80,000-square-foot store that uses 30 percent less energy than a conventional supermarket, with half of its power generated by wind. It employs skylights and sensors to automatically adjust lights, and also uses environmentally responsible cleaning products and water conservation equipment to save an estimated 100,000 gallons of water per year.

In April 2007, Giant Eagle opened a 67,000-square-foot Market District store in Pittsburgh that was certified silver under LEED. That store uses 20 percent less energy than a comparable supermarket and purchases wind power to offset all of its energy use.

Twenty percent of supermarkets are planning to build a LEED-certified store in the next five years, according to the Food Marketing Institute's Facts About Store Development report released in April. 
Another 37.5 p e rcent of retailers plan to pursue green building initiatives without official certification.

Skyrocketing fuel costs are driving interest in energy efficiency including green building, according to FMI. U.S. supermarkets on average use 50 kilowatt-hours of electricity and 50 cubic feet of natural gas per square foot per year,according to the U.S. Energy Star program. For the average supermarket, a 10 percent reduction in energy costs can boost net profit margins by up to 16 percent and sales per square foot by $44, according to Energy Star.

Since refrigeration and lighting account for more than 50 percent of total energy use at a typical supermarket, those areas are great targets for change.

Meijer, a Grand Rapids, Mich., operator of 181 Midwest stores, opened a LEED-certified store in Allen Park, Mich., in May 2007. The nine stores Meijer opens this year are all energy-efficient, says company spokesman Frank Guglielimi.

In Meijer's LEED stores, the refrigeration system chilling seafood and other products uses non-ozone depleting refrigerant gases.

"Water use is the other LEED measure we focus on," says Guglielimi. "All water-using equipment includes nozzle restrictors and aerators. This keeps water use as low as possible. As far as seafood-handling practices, we offer fresh fish and frozen fish. We do not thaw frozen fish, therefore, we do not use water for that purpose."

Hannaford Bros., operator of 164 Northeast supermarkets based in Scarborough, Maine, broke ground this spring on a 49,000-square-foot store in Augusta, Maine, for which it will seek platinum LEED certification. Michael Norton, Hannaford's spokesman, says the store's designers are working on what that will mean for the seafood department and they are looking to ice and refrigeration to maximize energy and water use.

Half the power purchased for PCC's Redmond store is in the form of "green tags" from Puget Sound Energy, says Ostrow, which uses the revenue to buy renewable power generated from wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, hydrogen/fuel cell, ocean wave or tidal sources, says Ostrow.

Twenty-eight sky lights flood the store with natural light. Sensors automatically monitor light levels and turn on artificial lights only when necessary. PCC is also replacing the fluorescent lighting in its refrigerated cases with energy-efficient LED lighting that uses one-tenth the energy of fluorescent and an even smaller fraction of the energy used by incandescent bulbs, says Ostrow.

The absence of ice is another energy saver in PCC's seafood departments. Seafood is sold packaged and wrapped on Styrofoam trays out of self-service cases in all the markets, a longtime practice of all PCC stores, says Diana Crane, PCC spokeswoman.

Prompted by a proposal from Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and City Council President Richard Conlin to ban supermarket foam containers, PCC is considering alternatives to its Styrofoam trays made of palm fiber, sugarcane fiber and genetically modified organism-free corn. Even if the ban fails, PCC will switch to that packaging for its meat and seafood, says Crane.

In its Edmonds store, PCC will collect rainwater and use it to flush toilets and irrigate landscaping, but that water won't touch food or people's hands, says Ostrow. "In seafood departments, functionality and health regulations rule the day."

Technology exists to filter and sterilize rainwater to make it safe for food, he says, but that requires expert engineers found at the water utility, not the supermarket.

"We're grocers. We sell groceries. We don't get fish from the water department," says Ostrow.

 

Contributing Editor Lisa Duchene lives in Bellefonte, Pa.

 

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