Beyond Lighting Retrofits: Grainger Helps Companies and Institutions Embrace Sustainability

Earlier this week, Grainger, a Fortune 500 international supplier of facilities and building maintenance products, gathered over 15,000 customers and suppliers in Orlando, Florida.

Grainger’s customers include over 2 million businesses and institutions across 157 countries. They include a broad range of heavy and lighter manufacturers like ConAgra, travel and hospitality companies like Hilton and United Airlines, technology and communications giants like AT&T, and leading educational and government entities such as the US Postal Service. Grainger’s suppliers are a similarly broad mix of brand name companies such as General Electric and smaller innovative start-ups. Albeit a company sponsored event, The Grainger Show was effectively a facilities industry tradeshow.

Sustainability was a primary theme and significant focal area to customers and suppliers. Over the past few years, Grainger has actively worked to increase the efficiency and sustainability of its own operations by investing in LEED certified facilities, building out sustainable product offerings and educating its team. The company was the first industrial distributor to have a LEED certified facility; they now operate 12 LEED facilities and are actively expanding that base.

Increasingly, the company provides sustainability consulting support to its customers, and a suite of certified sustainable products.

“We are taking a two-pronged approach to sustainability,” says Grainger CEO Jim Ryan. “ We are working to run our own business more sustainably and actively helping our customers do the same.”

Grainger has a dedicated consulting team to help institutional customers plan and implement sustainability. They are responding to customer interest in maximizing operational efficiency. Most often, customers start with lighting retrofits. The interest is rapidly expanding to additional energy efficiency measures and into water, waste management and air quality opportunities.

“We have a portfolio of green products and services in our offering catalog, “ explained Jeff Rehm, Grainger’s Corporate Sustainability Manager. “That category of products is growing as fast if not faster than our traditional product line. Last year, we sold over $400 million of our certified green products.”

Looking ahead, there appears to be growing interest in additional energy and water solutions. John McDermott, Grainger’s Senior Director of Brand Strategy is attuned:

“Our more sophisticated customers are asking us to expand around energy efficiency solutions. This includes more efficient motors, compressed air. Water is also big, especially in areas of the Southeast and the West.” To this end, the distributor provides a broad selection of new water technology, high efficiency sinks, fixtures and fountains.

“We are not there yet, but we are actively investing in and growing this [sustainability] area,” says Meeta Kratz, Senior Director, Grainger Customer Business.

Heather King

Heather is President of kingconsulting, a leading strategy consulting practice focused on sustainability, clean tech, and green tech. Heather has over 30 years experience working with pioneering technology, consumer, B2B companies and international non-profits - including Apple, Microsoft, Disney. Oracle, Ogilvy, Waste Management, Stanford Center for Social Innovation, Day in the Life, and multiple start ups. She serves on the boards of Trust for Conservation Innovation, a fiscal sponsor and incubator for over two dozen environmental non-profits, and the Presidio Graduate School, the leading MBA/MPA program focused on sustainability.

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