ATLANTA — Sprouts Farmers Market, Phoenix, and Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market, El Segundo, Calif., each won two Environmental Achievement Awards from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's GreenChill Partnership last week at the Food Marketing Institute's Energy & Store Development Conference here.
GreenChill, a voluntary program launched by the EPA in 2007 to address refrigerant leaks that can harm the ozone layer and contribute to climate change, presents annual awards to retailers participating in the program, which now includes more than 7,300 supermarkets.
Sprouts won GreenChill's most prestigious award — Best Emissions Rate — for having the program's lowest rate of refrigerant leaks over the previous calendar year, with a 6.5% rate. By comparison, the average industry leak rate is 25%, while the average rate for GreenChill members is 13.4%. Sprouts also won the Best Emissions Rate award last year with a rate of 6.9%, which tied with Giant Eagle, Pittsburgh.
“Sprouts proved that even when you get incredibly good with emissions, you can still improve,” said Keilly Witman, manager of GreenChill. Winners of the Best Emissions Rate award, she added, “have just shattered assumptions about what can be achieved in supermarket refrigeration.”
The chain also received the “Best of the Best” award for the best GreenChill-certified store among stores certified in the past 12 months. GreenChill bestows silver, gold and platinum certifications on stores that meet certain leak rate and refrigerant charge standards. The Sprouts store cited as the best certified supermarket, which is located in Thousand Oaks, Calif., received a platinum GreenChill certification, one of only three stores in the U.S. with that designation; it uses refrigeration technology that prevents at least 95% of the refrigerant emissions of a typical supermarket, according to the EPA.
“To win GreenChill's award for the best corporate-wide emissions rate and for the best certified store in the nation is an incredible achievement,” said Witman. “This is the first time in the history of the partnership that both awards have gone to the same company.”
This year GreenChill established a separate award for the Best Emissions Rate by a small retailer. This award went to McQuade's Marketplace, Westerly, R.I., which operates three stores. “McQuade's improved its leak rate by more than 90%,” said Witman, adding that the retailer's use of advanced refrigeration technology and its attention to improved service practices were the keys to its success.
Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market earned GreenChill's first Store Certification Excellence Award for achieving GreenChill's certification standards in the past year for 14 stores — two gold and 12 silver — more than any other retailer in the nation. (The awards are open to non-members as well as members of GreenChill.) The company also earned GreenChill's Distinguished Partner Award for its overall efforts to advance EPA's GreenChill Partnership.
Fresh & Easy's Distinguished Partner Award was partly the result of efforts made by Steve Hagen, the chain's director of national procurement and engineering, on behalf of GreenChill. Witman cited Hagen's participation in the program's monthly roundtable discussions and webinars and his representation of GreenChill at conferences. “Steve is always asking, ‘How can I help?’” she said.
A Distinguished Partner Award also went to Mitch Pearson, a California-based account manager for refrigeration manufacturer Hussmann. Pearson “made it his mission to encourage stores to achieve GreenChill [certification] standards,” said Witman.
For the second time since the beginning of the GreenChill Partnership, Whole Foods Market won the Most Improved Emissions Rate Award, cutting its leak rate by 17.5% in 2010. The chain was able to reduce its leak rate substantially despite experiencing equipment failures with new microchannel condensing units and despite taking a regional approach to sustainability, said Witman, who noted that the chain has started incorporating refrigeration management into store design.
Both Raley's and Supervalu earned a Goal Achievement Award for fully meeting their emissions reduction goals this past year, which were to cut leaks by 7.6% and 6%, respectively. “Supervalu and Raley's sought out every opportunity to stop refrigerant leaks and achieve their ambitious voluntary emissions reduction goals,” said Witman.
GreenChill also — for the final time — presented New Partner Plaques to food retailers that have joined the program in the past year: BJ's Wholesale Club, Down to Earth, Hanover Co-op Food Stores and Stater Bros. Supermarkets.
Witman expects food retailers to continue joining the GreenChill program. “We've seen a huge increase in interest from co-ops and small retailers,” she said, adding that the program also gets calls from larger retailers. GreenChill still lacks four of the largest food retailers — Wal-Mart, Kroger, Safeway and Ahold USA, though “there's definitely some interest there,” she said. Target joined GreenChill this year, becoming its largest member.
Even when retailers opt not to join GreenChill, some “still use the tools on our website [www.epa.gov/greenchill] that we offer to the entire industry,” said Witman.
Like many government agencies, the EPA has been facing federal budget cuts. But in an interview with SN in March, Drusilla Hufford, director of the EPA's Stratospheric Protection Division, which oversees the GreenChill program, said she did not expect budget cuts to result in changes “in how we run GreenChill.” An EPA spokeswoman declined to comment on the status of GreenChill's funding.
But at the FMI Energy & Store Development Conference, Witman observed that food retailers may hold the key to GreenChill's ultimate survival. “If [GreenChill retail partners] want to ensure that GreenChill continues to exist, they should encourage [other retailers] to become partners,” she said. “If the EPA perceives a lack of interest, then the future of GreenChill would be in danger.”