With a host of operational and merchandising solutions at the forefront, equipment suppliers are poised to help grocers improve their green profiles on both the sustainability and profitability fronts.
There is no area of today's supermarkets that's not energy-dependent in some measure. Energy Star, a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Energy — whose goal is to save money and protect the environment through energy-efficient products and practices — estimates that the average supermarket of 50,000 square feet spends $200,000 annually on energy costs, or $4 per square foot.
As one of the highest per-square-foot "energy customers" among commercial establishments, supermarket executives need little convincing when it comes to measuring the return on investment of solutions that require less energy.
More than 5,000 supermarket sites have already decreased their energy expenses by as much as $54,000 per facility per year, according to Energy Star, with up to $100,000 in possible savings in operational costs per year. Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Market, for instance, recently said it would increase efforts to reduce energy consumption in all of its stores by 25 percent per square foot by 2015.
The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) estimates that there were 35,612 supermarkets in the Unites States in 2009. If each of these stores reduced energy consumption by $54,000 annually, the resulting cost savings would amount to a cool $2 billion a year.
Kilojolts Consulting Group points out that supermarkets need to earn $40 in revenue to recover every $1 of energy they waste, and at least 10 percent of energy costs are attributable to waste. The Lexington, Mass.-based company has worked to reduce energy expenditures with a variety of food retailers and wholesalers, including Safeway, Supervalu's Star Market subsidiary, Big Y Foods, C&S Wholesale Grocers, Grand Union Family Markets and Ro-Jack's.
And though energy represents only about 1 percent of total grocery store costs, it's about equal to a typical grocery store's profit margin, according to Focus on Energy, a Madison, Wis.-based organization dedicated to exploring renewable energy options; therefore, a 10 percent reduction in energy costs can mean a 10 percent increase in profits. Energy Star estimates that $1 in energy savings is equivalent to increasing sales by $59.
Recently, several supermarket companies have taken energy management to a new level in terms of both technology and dedication. Stop & Shop, a Quincy, Mass.-based banner of Ahold USA, has completed the installation of solar panels at eight stores: four in New Jersey, three in Massachusetts and one location in Connecticut. The installations are part of a program to reduce carbon emissions by 20 percent by 2015, using 2008 as a baseline. It is expected that the new photovoltaic (PV) solar power generating systems will reduce energy consumption by more than 7 percent and generate about 1.8 million kilowatt-hours of electricity in all eight stores annually.
The system, developed by Alteris Renewables Inc., offers a number of benefits. Ron French, president of the Wilton, Conn.-based firm, says: "In designing the systems for Stop & Shop, [we] used different product configurations that would meet the site-specific requirements at a particular store. Considerations for structural weight tolerances, roof shading, wind zone and roof type are evaluated in the system design in order to optimize the energy production for each facility."
In August, Albertsons, a banner of Minneapolis-based Supervalu, opened a store in the San Diego community of Clairemont that's one of the first in California to generate nearly 90 percent of the electricity it needs from a 400-kilowatt fuel cell from South Windsor, Conn.-based UTC Power, a subsidiary of United Technologies Corp. Highly energy-efficient and virtually pollution-free, fuel cells combine hydrogen and oxygen in an electrochemical process to produce electricity, heat and water; no fossil fuel is burned.
The project is estimated to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 478 metric tons each year compared with California non-baseload power plants. The annual nitrogen oxide emissions reduction is equal to removing 82 cars from the roadways per year.
Byproduct heat from the fuel cell process is captured to warm water used in the store, heat it when necessary and power a chiller to help cool refrigerated food, resulting in an overall energy efficiency of about 60 percent, nearly twice the efficiency of the U.S. electrical grid.
If there's a power outage, the new Albertsons will be able to operate without disruption, because electricity is generated on-site by the fuel cell. Other environmentally focused amenities throughout the Clairemont store include highly efficient LED lighting in the dairy and frozen food doors that reduces energy consumption by more than 50 percent to 65 percent, photo sensors in 33 skylights that measure the amount of daylight from the outdoor sky and adjust the electric light levels accordingly, and night curtains that are pulled over all open cold cases in the evening to seal in the cool air, reducing spoilage and energy costs up to 25 percent.
Sunbury, Pa.-based Weis Markets has begun construction of three superstores in Pennsylvania, the regional retailer recently revealed at its Carlisle Street store in Hanover, Pa., which was the first supermarket in the Keystone State to earn a certification award from the GreenChill Advanced Refrigeration Partnership, a voluntary EPA alliance with food retailers to reduce refrigerant emissions.
Giant Eagle Market District's 'Big' Energy Solution
Opened in late 2009, Giant Eagle's 150,000-square-foot Market District store in Robinson Township, Pa., greets shoppers with a 40-foot-high atrium exposing a vast open ceiling, which, despite its charm, inherently lends itself to poor air circulation.
With high ceilings comes the natural phenomenon of stratification as the less dense hot air rises to the ceiling. This in turn requires the thermostat at the occupant level to work harder to achieve the desired temperature. The increase in usage leads to an increase in energy bills and can cause heaters to short-circuit in the process.
In the planning stages of construction, 22 small ceiling fans were specified to address the stratification concerns. To ensure consistent temperatures and eliminate drafts or air pockets, the specifications were changed to incorporate two 12-foot-diameter Element fans from Lexington, Ky.-based Big Ass Fan Co. The 10 patented airfoils with winglets, similar to the design of aircraft wings, generate smooth, consistent airflow without creating a draft. Because it's designed to move air efficiently, without excessive drag, the fan is slowed — not reversed and sped up — to recirculate the heat without any strain to the motor and resulting energy waste. Further, Element's gearless direct drive operates silently.
In addition to energy concerns, maintaining consistent temperatures can ensure employee and patron comfort, as well as preventing premature spoilage from produce not adequately shielded from extreme temperatures.
Factoring in Fleets
By Jason Mathers
Finding smart, quick ways to cut costs that will translate to a better bottom line or a better-priced product is paramount in today's market. Leading companies are reducing fuel costs and emissions of greenhouse gases, the major contributor to human-caused global warming. Relatively minor changes can add up to significant improvements in fuel economy, operating costs and emissions. Whether your company operates its own fleet or receives produce solely from trucks, the strategies outlined here can help your bottom line and the environment.
The best way to reduce fuel use is not to run the truck in the first place. Companies can review current shipping or fleet operations for opportunities to increase efficiency. Among the many companies that have significantly reduced emissions and costs this way is Rosemont, Ill.-based U.S. Foodservice, which saved $8.2 million in fuel costs and avoided 22,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions by improving the efficiency of its fleet operations by more than 4 percent.
Strategies that can improve operational efficiency include:
- Optimizing Routes: GPS routing software can help drivers avoid heavy traffic that causes delays and emissions from idling. Some programs can also detect off-route miles that could be associated with unauthorized vehicle use.
- Driving Efficiently: Simple driving steps improve efficiency and decrease fuel consumption. Avoid excessive speeds, minimize sharp accelerations and maintain proper tire pressure.
- Reducing Empty Miles: Over a quarter of the trailers on U.S. highways are running empty. Companies that are able to haul goods on both legs of a trip can avoid a future trip, saving costs and emissions. To cut down on empty miles, fleets are exploring intracorporate hauling, accepting third-party freight as a for-hire transporter, and trip leasing.
Opportunities exist today to improve the fuel efficiency of the trucks currently on the road today. The U.S. EPA voluntary Smartway program lists technology that's verified to improve performance of large trucks. In addition to the Smartway technologies, companies should consider:
- Moving to Lower-GVW (Gross Vehicle Weight) Trucks: A company can reduce fuel use significantly by "right-sizing" its fleet — selecting trucks that are no larger or more powerful than necessary for their application.
- Using Hybrid Trucks: Hybrid electric vehicles, hydraulic hybrids and electric vehicles all have the potential to increase the fuel efficiency of trucks and reduce emissions. Fuel efficiency improvements between 15 percent and 50 percent are likely from these advanced-technology engines. These vehicles are particularly well suited to urban pickup and delivery and other short-haul markets.
- Reducing Vehicle Tare Weight: By reducing the tare (empty) weight of the truck, fuel economy is improved. Fuel economy savings can be particularly substantial in smaller truck classes because tare weight makes up a larger portion of gross vehicle weight. Tare weight can be reduced through the use of lightweight components such as aluminum wheels and other body parts.
- Installing Automatic Engine Shutdown: Approximately 7 percent of all single-unit truck fuel use is associated with idling, and this percentage is much higher for certain types of trucks. Automatic engine shutdown can be programmed through the engine control module (ECM).
- Making Transmission Adjustments: The fuel efficiency of a truck is heavily influenced by the transmission and engine throttle operation. It's often possible to reprogram the automatic transmission control unit so that trucks upshift at lower speeds. Factory settings for automatic transmissions are often based on maximizing power, not fuel economy.
- Limiting Vehicle Speeds: Speed reduction is one of the most effective strategies for improving fuel efficiency. Many fleets choose to limit their trucks' top speed to between 60 and 65 mph.
Optimize Loading Dock Processes
Companies without fleets have a role to play in minimizing emissions and fuel consumption, too. Efficient operations when receiving shipments are important. Consider the following strategies.
- Provide Preferential Docking: Many companies provide incentives to truck fleets that are members of the SmartWay program. Privileges could include prime docking times or locales.
- Enforce Anti-idling Policies: Idling trucks waste fuel and create harmful emissions. Create polices that prevent idling at company facilities. Smartway notes that idling policies are most effective when combined with driver comfort stations at docking facilities.
- Schedule Loading Times: Allow carriers to schedule pickup and delivery times, which will help drivers avoid idling while waiting for space.
Jason Mathers, a green fleet project manager with the Washington-based Environmental Defense Fund, can be contacted at [email protected].