ANAHEIM, Calif. — Like Wal-Mart Stores, Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market prefers suppliers that share its environmental standards.
“We make a very strong effort to look at suppliers who share common ideals and objectives with us,” said Steve Hagen, director of national procurement, Fresh & Easy, a division of U.K.-based Tesco, during a session on “green sourcing” at the Natural Products Expo West here on March 13.
When Fresh & Easy executives visit suppliers' facilities, they don't just examine products, manufacturing processes and delivery capabilities. “We also look at their building and ask them what they do to give it a low carbon footprint or low energy usage and where they are recycling,” Hagen said. “It's always a little shocking to some suppliers that we show as much interest in that side of the business as we do in the products they are going to provide us.”
One supplier of energy services whose environmental policies caught Fresh & Easy's eye is Melink, Milford, Ohio. “Their buildings are LEED certified, they've converted their fleet to hybrid vehicles, and they will give their employees money to offset the incremental cost of purchasing a hybrid electric vehicle,” noted Hagen. “That's the kind of environmental responsibility we look for in a supplier.”
Fresh & Easy is also a big believer in voluntary government and non-government environmental programs. The chain, which operates 160 stores, participates in the GreenChill Advanced Refrigeration Partnership, a program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Eight of its stores have received GreenChill certification for meeting EPA's refrigeration standards — the most of any chain in the U.S.
“Being a part of GreenChill allows us to communicate with other groups in an open forum where we can see where other people are having success in their programs to reduce their carbon impact based on refrigeration design,” he said. “We're currently looking at a whole bunch of designs partially based on our involvement in GreenChill and the knowledge we gain from talking with other people about distributed and other advanced refrigeration systems. We think being part of GreenChill is a definite advantage.”
Through the GreenChill program, Fresh & Easy will be testing cases that employ propane gas as a refrigerant, Hagen said. “Not only is [propane] more energy efficient, it doesn't have any global warming potential.”
Fresh & Easy is also a member of the California Climate Action Registry, in which companies voluntarily measure, verify and publicly report their greenhouse-gas emissions. “It's another way of saying we're an open book,” he said.
The chain also recently certified 10 of its stores as meeting the EPA's Energy Star standard for efficiency. “The consensus is that the rest of our stores would qualify; we've just chosen not to make that investment,” he said. Several stores have also been certified to meet the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) building standard set by the U.S. Green Building Council, and all are built to that standard.
Fresh & Easy also endeavors to point out its environmental initiatives to shoppers. Signs with an arrow pointing up mention the company's investment in energy-saving skylights. Notes on cases talk about the energy efficiency of their design, such as the use of LED lighting. “We believe they care about that and share it with others,” said Hagen.
Moreover, Fresh & Easy believes that communicating to shoppers about the environment and selling environmentally friendly products “changes the culture of your customers and the way they act,” said Hagen. “They really are the ones who can make the biggest difference.”
Hagen acknowledged that a number of environmental initiatives are costly, “but it is incumbent on large companies with resources to invest in technology and products to increase volume and drive down the price so everybody can participate.”
On the other hand, he noted, an “even greater number” of environmental investments don't cost more than traditional methods, he added. Refrigerants are now available with a global warming potential that is half that of R-404 but cost the same. Solar panels are becoming affordable through government tax breaks. Glass doors on refrigerated cases — which Fresh & Easy installed in test stores — have proven cost effective. “To the surprise of our merchants, sales went up because customers believe the aisles were warmer and the food was fresher,” he said. “The payback is fantastic.”