When terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, I was attending the Food Marketing Institute's 22nd Annual Energy and Technical Services Conference in Cleveland.
Although there were many underlying causes, the attacks apparently were related to U.S. military presence in the Middle East, which is directly connected to our need to protect our energy interests in that region. Some have even speculated that the crisis could escalate to the point where our supply of oil from that region could be cut off, resulting in an unprecedented energy crisis.
Prior to the attacks, there already was a strong interest in energy among industry members. For example, FMI's Chad Stark, senior manager, education, told me this year's Energy Conference saw a significant increase in the number of retailer attendees at a time when some other FMI conferences are drawing fewer retailers because of consolidation and the soft economy.
All that makes the topic of energy conservation that much more important. A person no less than the president of the United States has specifically called for supermarkets to use less energy, and the FMI has responded with various initiatives tied in with the Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star program.
The energy conference was substantially dedicated to informing retail attendees about energy management. Attendees learned about how major retailers such as Safeway, Albertson's and Raley's addressed the much-publicized energy crisis in California and warned that the same kind of shortages could happen elsewhere. "If you don't think this can be a problem in the rest of the country, you are being naive," said Randy McAdam, corporate maintenance and utilities manager, Safeway, Pleasanton, Calif. Although the energy crisis he is referring to has to do with utility deregulation, it's clear that any oil shortages caused by the current political situation could only make matters worse.
But there's good news. These same retailers have enjoyed a good deal of success in implementing programs that include equipment upgrades, better temperature monitoring systems and, of course, lots of education. Consumer education has gone so well that California now ranks second from the bottom in per capita energy use, said McAdam; only Rhode Island does better.
A particular focus was on lighting. Contrary to the most basic of common assumptions about lighting, that "brighter is better," retailers have found great customer acceptance of their new, lower lighting levels. Meanwhile, daylighting, or the use of controlled natural light in the store, can actually increase sales. For example, in a Wal-Mart experimental store, which uses half daylighting and half traditional, sales in the daylit side of the store are 40% greater, said Alexis Karolides, senior research associate and consultant, Green Development Services, Rocky Mountain Institute, Snowmass, Colo. A former GE Lighting executive, Terry McGowan, principal, Lighting Ideas, Cleveland, challenged that number, but acknowledged that "daylighting seems like a very good idea."
In the days following the tragedy, supermarkets have done many generous things to contribute to the various needs in New York and Washington. But as a longer-term memorial in the weeks and months ahead, they can do something even more helpful, and rededicate themselves to energy conservation.