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Bringing Conservation to Light.

Byline: Joan Driggs

If animal welfare is complex, energy conservation is straightforward. "Energy is the low-hanging fruit of environmental concerns," says David Fikes, VP of communications and consumer affairs at the Arlington, Va.-based Food Marketing Institute (FMI). "It generates a lot of good will in that retailers can save money and make stores more environmental. It's a win-win for everyone."

BIG Chill

Balls Food Stores brought its machine-room refrigeration system to center store, showcasing the company's commitment to energy savings.

Energy savings ticks a lot of boxes: It benefits consumers now and in the future by saving nonrenewable fossil fuels (which are also pollutants, so there's a health angle there as well); it saves money for the businesses buying energy; and it saves the environment, as those nonrenewable resources need to be extracted from the earth. Further, energy is one area where the industry successfully collaborates, with retailers, suppliers, NGOs and federal agencies banding together for solutions.

The notion of conserving energy for the greater good is something consumers can relate to on a personal level as well. But initiatives undertaken by grocery retail go well beyond the scope and scale of a typical household, and that's where communication to promote these efforts becomes important for grocery retailers to be viewed in a good light.

Grocery retail is still in the early stages of conservation. The industry currently resides in the unpopular spot of being one of the largest commercial consumers of energy; it takes a lot to keep stores well lit and product well chilled. Energy Star, a voluntary program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), estimates that 40 percent of store energy is consumed by refrigeration.

Popular energy-saving strategies in grocery retail over the past several years include the installation of motion-sensor lighting in frozen food aisles and other display cases. When there's no traffic, aisles dim and the electric meter slows. Because their own movement triggers light, consumers are made aware of the store's commitment to conservation with little extra fanfare needed.

Transitioning to light-emitting diode (LED) lighting also saves energy, and the lights last longer than the fluorescent tubes they replace. Installing transparent doors on what had been open refrigerated cases can save considerable energy, about two-thirds less than is needed for exposed cases.

Upping the Game

Kansas City, Kan.-based Balls Food Stores, which operates under the Hen House Markets and Price Chopper Foods banners, has undertaken some more aggressive initiatives.

Balls is a major supporter of the Kansas City Power & Light's Energy Curtailment program, which provides customers with credit for reducing their load upon notification during periods of peak demand. Dave Gryszowka, Balls' VP of store development, says that in Kansas City, there are frequently stretches of days that are consistently hotter than 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

Balls took up the challenge to help the utility supplier cut back on energy use, with a focus on lighting, as HVAC is calibrated to protect food. The company cuts lighting by 50 percent during peak usage hours (generally between noon and 7 p.m.) and when the stores are closed. The reduced lighting doesn't interfere with night stocking, and it's also bright enough for consumers to shop.

"I have a 22-by-28-foot sign that announces what we're doing and why," says Gryszowka. "And the teammates in the store are also enthusiastic supporters; they send me ideas on how to save more."

Balls also undertook an aggressive program to replace its back-of-the-house motor room of multiple compressors and miles of refrigerant-filled copper, installing a split distributor where on-floor cooler boxes are engineered such that the refrigeration system sits on top. Safety bars and lighting make the new cases easy and safe to maintain. "The box is on the sales floor, with a glass frame in front of the rack. We showcase it like a jewelry case," says Gryszowka. A QR code on the box explains the benefits to curious customers.

Everyone Can Conserve

Safeway views its employees as a strategic bridge between its corporate initiatives and its engagement with consumers. The Pleasanton, Calif.-based retailer wants its employees to be aware of what it's doing corporately, but also offers suggestions for how associates can make a difference, both at work and at home.

"With employee messaging, we present information in a way that people can understand. People might have a tough time making a connection between saving 4.9 million kilowatt-hours; what does that mean? But if we put it in the equivalent of taking X number of cars off the road," that's something they can relate to, says Chris Ratto, director of sustainability at Safeway.

The grocer also relies heavily on social media to communicate its conservation initiatives and share ideas on how consumers can save energy and water. "You'll see more Facebook postings and Twitter messages in the coming year," says Ratto. "Sometimes at shelf, it's hard to call out [our sustainability work] because there's so much happening there."

Conservation ideas are also included in the company's annual sustainability report, found under the "Planet" section of its CSR website ( Tips include lowering water temperature to 120[degrees] F, shorter showers instead of baths, low-flow shower heads, and turning lights off when leaving the room. "The more people are doing it, the more impact it will have on reducing the environmental footprint," says Ratto.

Collaboration for Conservation

Despite the highly competitive nature of the grocery retail industry, energy conservation stands out as tremendously collaborative (see the sidebar at left). Safeway has a committee of employees who work with industry organizations on a number of sustainability efforts. In the energy space, the company works with the New York-based International Council of Shopping Centers, where members learn about new technologies and energy-efficient programs. Members share what works and what doesn't within respective organizations.

Balls' Gryszowka says that he relies to a great extent on supplier partners. Bridgeton, Mo.-based Hussmann Corp., for example, isn't a vendor of LED lighting, but the company has engineers who are well versed in the market and have made recommendations. "I don't have those folks on my staff, so they've been tremendously helpful," notes Gryszowka.

The beauty of energy, retailers agree, is that there's a measurable ROI. "When you present the numbers, it's hard for [the final decision-makers] to say no, especially if they're in the game for the long haul and want to do what's right for the business," says Gryszowka, who estimates that a recent project that included retrofitting chill-case doors and transitioning to LED lighting will pay for itself in a little more than two years, and will continue to contribute positive cash flow for many years beyond.

Such initiatives save retailers a lot of money, but they're also examples of the industry striving "to be better servants to Mother Earth," says Gryszowka.

2014 Green Retail Decisions

Sustainability is one of the few topics among grocery retailers - make that across all industries - that fosters collaboration for the common good. The consensus that "we're all in this together" is the foundation of the Green Retail Decisions Innovation Summit, which will be held June 2-4, at the Rosemont Hilton/Chicago O'Hare Hotel.

Developed in partnership with a retailer advisory board, the Green Retail Decisions Innovation Summit is a unique event for senior retail executives and industry suppliers. Boardroom briefings, one-on-one meetings, keynote presentations and high-level networking will provide an overview of innovation, strategy and successful green retailing strategies.

For more information, visit
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Author:Driggs, Joan
Publication:Progressive Grocer
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2014
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