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How a Grocery Store Chain Collected Data, Saved Energy and Helped a Community


By Julie Urlaub

The grocery store industry has been making strides in setting and meeting sustainability goals, but Lisa Stanley, vice president of product management for the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), told Grocery Headquarters that supermarkets have more work to do.

According to Biz Energy Advisor, grocery stores in the U.S. use an average of 52.5 kilowatt-hours of electricity and 38,000 Btu of natural gas per square foot annually. In a typical store, refrigeration and lighting represent about 65 percent of total use, making them prime targets for energy efficiencies.

Energy conservation within these four walls

Grocery stores are the heaviest users of energy of any type of commercial building in North America, and the cost is high. "On average, grocers spend about 1 to 1.5 percent of their revenue on electricity and natural gas. This means the cost of utilities may equal half or more of total profits. A 10 percent reduction in energy cost could increase profits by 5 to 10 percent,” Mike Parks, president of customer innovation at Verisae, Inc. (a provider of enterprise energy), told Retail Leader.

Stanley agrees: “The grocery industry is focused on energy efficiency work, with good reason — they can make a significant impact to the triple bottom line when they embrace energy retrofits for lighting, HVAC and refrigeration equipment.”

Many grocery chains (small and large) are investing in different kinds of energy-saving solutions. Market of Choice (Eugene, Oregon) installed air curtains at its front entrances that saved energy and cut costs while conserving valuable floor space. Kowalski’s Cub Foods (White Bear Lake, Minnesota) installed smart sensors and controllers in frozen glass display cases, a move that has already paid for itself and continues to save money. Stater Bros (San Bernardino, California) swapped its 60-watt fluorescent lights for GE’s 16-watt LED system in 163 participating stores, resulting in annual energy and maintenance savings of around $570,000.

Tracking the data

But once stores invest in energy-saving technology, how do they track their usage, gauge their savings, set goals, meet them and continue to strive for more savings? Parks recommends investing in a tool that will help track energy data.

New Seasons Market, based in Oregon, has 18 locations, with two more in the works. The grocery chain embraced sustainability measures right from the beginning, not only composting its own waste, but also offering composting and recycling services for hard-to-recycle items to the surrounding community. As New Seasons expanded in size and geographic area, it became more and more important to capture utilities data, analyze it for potential savings, set sustainability targets and evaluate the company’s progress. In 2014, New Seasons chose data management tool Scope 5 to track their energy usage [full disclosure: Scope 5 is a client].

Data collection leads to energy savings

Previously, Teak Wall, New Seasons’ sustainability program manager, says she spent hours and hours poring over utility data for all the store locations. Even though New Seasons is in the early stages of implementation, after entering the chain’s historical data, Wall said that seeing all the data together was immediately eye-opening. And not just for her. Now she can easily create a chart that can be shown to different audiences, clearly illustrating any number of data points.

For example, once all the water data had been collected from all of the company's locations, Wall was able to see that the water consumption in one of its brand-new stores was twice what she had expected it to be. That information enabled her to detect and fix an issue that had not been obvious before.

“If we had not been able to look at it in that visual capacity, that problem could have gone on and on,” Wall says.

Wall also found that several different people in her organization interacted with the utility data unnecessarily, prompting her to implement new efficiencies that save time and effort.

Wall can see several ways the data management tool will help the grocery chain going forward. For starters, Wall was able to measure the chain’s carbon footprint for the first time, giving her an important data baseline she has already used to begin drafting ambitious energy and water reduction goals.

“We [also] want to use it as an engagement tool to help our store operations teams compete with each other to reduce their usage. We are already transparent with our financials, and I would like to do the same thing with what we are calling our mission dashboard information so we can see how we are doing from a triple bottom line perspective,” Wall says. “Then we can think about it from a continuous improvement standpoint.”

Sustainability has always been a core value for New Seasons. The chain has undertaken several sustainable projects, including green building improvements, innovative refrigerant solutions, and heat recapture from the refrigeration system to preheat water, in addition to composting, recycling, food donation and waste reduction programs that have been in place for many years. The chain is actually a certified zero-waste company, diverting 92 percent of its waste away from the landfill.

Time equals money that can be used to help someone else

Now that the company’s data is being collected consistently and is more easily analyzed, Wall is looking for ways that New Seasons can not only capitalize on energy efficiencies, but also save time.

In 2015, New Seasons needed to re-certify its B Corp status, which is a task that Wall says can be time-consuming. However, since its historical data had all been compiled into one system, the process was significantly streamlined.

Many of the chain's sustainable efforts, including composting, recycling and zero waste, are complicated and time-intensive, but it is determined to continue to offer its communities these services. New Seasons also makes a point of working with small, local vendors and family farms, something that many larger chains don’t do, due to the increased manual effort it takes to place orders and process thousands of paper invoices by hand.

“We do it,” Wall says, “because we think it’s important for the local economy. But what we’ve done lately, which I think is really exciting, is to work with those small vendors to create an infrastructure to make it more efficient for them as well as for us. We try to be innovative and think differently.”

So, wherever New Seasons can save time, it looks for ways to reallocate that effort toward helping someone else. In the past, it has sometimes been difficult to measure the return on investment of these projects, but now Wall is looking forward to seeing the data roll in from these “homegrown” programs so it’s easier to quantify the positive impact New Seasons has always known was there.

And, as if all that wasn’t enough, New Seasons gives 10 percent of its after-tax profits to various organizations through grants and donations, so any increased energy savings found through data analysis don’t just help the environment and benefit the grocery retailer, but they also result in profits that go back into the community. That’s quite a return on an investment in data collection.

Image credit: Stock image

Julie Urlaub is the Founder and Managing Partner of Taiga Company and author of The Business Sustainability Handbook. Her award winning blog, engaged Twitter following of 50,000+, and her large, loyal following on Facebook, Pinterest, and Google+ has garnered her recognition as one of the top resources and thought leaders in social media engagement for sustainability.

About Scope 5. Scope 5 helps you extract value from your sustainability data. Our web-based software solution makes reporting more efficient, accurate and transparent. Our analytics help reveal opportunities to reduce costs and risks.

One of our current customers put it this way: "Once folks start focusing on the metrics, it motivates them in new ways to do a better job." 

Companies typically get started using spreadsheets to support their sustainability reports; Scope 5 is the accessible upgrade alternative to "big software" solutions. 

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