Supermarkets seek ‘green’ store certification, experiment with sustainable design
The supermarket industry is embracing the green revolution in its store design.
Although some chains have long sought Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council for their stores, more and more supermarket operators seem to be pursuing the standards set by this independent rating system.
Those who do pursue such certification say the benefits are plentiful, and include not only energy cost savings, but also a halo effect that encompasses both customers and employees throughout the organization around the concepts of sustainability, recycling and creating a healthy environment.
In two recent LEED projects in the industry that were the first for their chains — one by Price Chopper Supermarkets and another by Hannaford Bros. — the stores also serve as learning laboratories where the companies can experiment with the latest green technologies.
“This is part of a comprehensive sustainability effort,” said Bill Sweet, vice president of engineering and construction at Schenectady, N.Y.-based Price Chopper Supermarkets, which recently built a store in Colonie, N.Y., to be certified as LEED at the silver level. “It's not only about construction — it's about conservation, it's about recycling, it's about how our transportation department looks at truck routes, and it involves working with our trade partners on packaging.”
The store is also a testing site for some advanced energy technologies, including a fuel cell energy system that converts natural gas into electricity.
Likewise, at Scarborough, Maine-based Hannaford Bros., a unit of Delhaize Group, Brussels, sustainability extends well beyond the LEED construction initiative. That chain recently earned platinum LEED certification for a store in Augusta, Maine, but Fred Conlogue, director of design services at Hannaford Bros., said the effort inspired a new type of thinking throughout the organization.
“There are a lot of synergies around Delhaize's corporate responsibility, and the ‘people, planet, product’ philosophy, as well as our retail offering and our healthy choices offering,” Conlogue explained. “It's really been rewarding to see how much interest it has fostered across the organization. People have really embraced this and looked to what they could do in their own jobs to support this.” (Click here for a photo gallery tour of the store.)
The LEED certification system for new-building construction — which is being updated with a set of standards that apply specifically to retail stores — awards points for various “green” initiatives that are used in store construction and design, with an emphasis on such attributes as the use of natural lighting, the incorporation of recycled materials and energy-use reduction. Builders get a point for each item in a checklist of such elements, with a minimum of 26 points needed for basic LEED certification. A score of 33 points earns silver, 39 points earns gold and 52 points puts the builder at the platinum level.
In the case of the Augusta Hannaford Bros., Conlogue said the company sought platinum certification not just for the sake of getting the label, but instead to create in essence a learning lab, where it could measure the results of its efforts and determine what elements would be practical to roll out to additional locations.
“Right out of the box we set the goal intentionally high, both from the standpoint of wanting to push ourselves and building on Hannaford's long history of energy-efficient stores, particularly around refrigeration and lighting and energy-efficient controls,” Conlogue told SN. “We wanted to really use the rigor of the LEED process and the LEED criteria to drive us even further, and just be bolder about it and stretch ourselves.
“Any one of the green technologies or features in this store is not groundbreaking in and of itself, but to employ such a wide range of green technologies in one location was really to create a learning laboratory, where we will learn, associates will learn and customers will learn. We wanted to take a look at anything that might benefit us not only for this store, but over the whole portfolio of 169 stores.”
Conlogue described the Augusta store as LEED “platinum-plus” because of all the green features that were incorporated into the design.
The store was selected about two years ago to become Hannaford's green learning lab when the company made the commitment to build on the site.
“We wanted to do it quickly, so we wanted a location we were already planning to build on,” Conlogue said. “This site had a lot of unique features that presented us with some challenges, and also gave us some opportunities.”
The 49,000-square-foot store, located in a downtown area, is accessible by mass transportation, which is a plus, he explained. It allowed the store to open with fewer parking spaces than it would normally provide, which is encouraged in the LEED system. In addition, the store offers special parking spaces for low-emission and hybrid alternative-fuel vehicles, and also offers a bike rack and special parking for employees who carpool.
The sustainability effort at the site actually began with the demolition of the high school that previously occupied the space. Hannaford Bros. was able to recycle or reuse 99% of the equipment that was left on site, such as tables and chairs, by distributing it to nonprofit organizations, including other schools and YMCAs, many in Maine and New Hampshire, but some as far away as the Caribbean.
In addition, Hannaford was able to recycle about 96% of the construction debris from the site, some of which was recycled for use on site for construction of the new store and some of which was recycled through other resources.
The store incorporates an array of design elements and technologies that helped boost it to the platinum LEED level, including something that is a first for Hannaford — the use of geothermal wells to help regulate temperature.
The two, 750-foot-deep wells deliver a constant 50-degree supply of water that can be used both as a cooling source in the summer and a heating source in the winter.
“We are looking forward to seeing how much the geothermal wells help us out on those severe peak hot and cold days,” Conlogue said. “We're not sure what the learning or the outcome is going to be from that. We're not sure it will have a life in future stores.”
The technology itself is not site restrictive — almost any store can use the wells — it's a matter of determining how much benefit the store actually derives before it is rolled out at other sites.
Another green technology the store deploys is an array of solar energy panels on the roof, which will be used to generate electricity. The 41-kilowatt array is the largest in the state of Maine, Conlogue said.
The Augusta store is the fifth Hannaford Bros. location to use solar panels as a power source.
“This is a technology we have some experience with,” Conlogue said. “Under the right circumstances it's a good, on-site renewable resource, and it's a good LEED point as well. It's very maintenance free, and very user-friendly.”
Sunlight is not only an energy source at the Augusta Hannaford Bros. location; it's also a key design element in the lighting of the store.
“We have a very robust solution to harvest and flood the store with natural light,” Conlogue explained.
The store employs about a half-dozen different natural-light solutions, including a pavilion in the center of the store that is raised about 6 feet above the roof, with clear glass on all four sides to allow sunlight in.
In addition, so-called transom glass windows along the tops of the exterior walls allow additional light into the store.
The roof also includes more than 50 skylights, both over the sales floor and over the back-room receiving area.
Sunlight is also harvested through about a dozen solar shafts — tubing lined with reflective material that collects light from the roof and directs it down to the floor level. In this location, it is used in several food-prep areas, in the pharmacy technicians' work area and in the public restrooms — the only public area where the tube-delivered light is deployed.
“The solar tubes harvest a tremendous amount of daylight, and really punch up the light in those areas,” Conlogue said.
The fluorescent lighting in the store, which Conlogue described as an “already very efficient” T8 system, uses sensors to monitor the level of daylight and is tied to controls that shut lights off when the daylighting is sufficient.
The GreenChill refrigeration units, which use 50% less refrigerant gas than a typical refrigeration system, also have been engineered to maximize efficiency, with doors on almost all units rather than open-air reach-in units and LED lighting that is controlled by motion sensors to minimize energy use.
“Very often in the past we would have open doors on dairy or beer,” Conlogue noted. “A lot was done about improving the performance of the equipment — we changed a lot of the specs.”
Even the coffin cases have sliding doors on top to trap cold air inside, Conlogue explained.
As a result of these various initiatives and others, Hannaford expects to see a 50% reduction in energy use compared with a typical supermarket, and a 25% reduction in energy use compared with a typical Hannaford store that employs the company's standard efficiency systems.
“Most of that is coming from the advanced refrigeration and the lighting controls,” Conlogue explained.
The store also will seek to reduce its water usage by about 38% compared with a typical supermarket, in part through the elimination of ice. The store is not using any ice at all in the entire store, even in the seafood cases, Conlogue explained. Eliminating the ice machine typically found in Hannaford stores not only reduces the electricity needed to run it, it also eliminates the need for hot water that is typically used to melt the ice when cases are broken down, he explained.
Amid the solar power array, the skylights, the solar tubes and the raised pavilion, Hannaford also set aside about 7,000 square feet on the roof for vegetation.
The so-called “green roof” brings a number of benefits, Conlogue explained, including added insulation and a reduction in storm-water run-off. At this location, because of the relatively small size of the site and limited space on the ground, the company was also able to earn LEED credit for the rooftop garden because it counts as “reclaimed vegetative space.”
The vegetation — mostly a mixture of low-maintenance, succulent plant varieties called sedums — is actually grown off-site in a modular system of two-foot-square trays.
“It looks pretty impressive, and is quite unique,” Conlogue said.
The little landscaping there is on the grounds of the site does not require irrigation, is drought-resistant and is otherwise low-maintenance, he explained.
Other aspects of the store's exterior that reflect the sustainability push at the store include the use of a more reflective surface on the asphalt in the parking lot, in lieu of the traditional black pavement that absorbs heat. The new, water-based coating, which is a grayish color and has a higher reflective solar index, has been applied to the majority of the parking-lot surface.
Other features on the store's exterior include a wood trellis that was constructed using reclaimed wood from two older buildings that were demolished — a World War II airplane hangar in Maine and an old textile mill in Massachusetts. The trellis retains many of the original cuts and grooves from its first uses, Conlogue pointed out, so that customers can tell that it has been repurposed.
“We tried to do some things to make it visible to the customer and be noticeable,” he said.
A lot of effort also was put into making the indoor environment as healthy as possible for employees, he explained.
The store increased ventilation by about 30% compared with a typical store and made extensive use of paints and other materials that are considered low emitters of volatile organic compounds (VOC).
“We really scrubbed all of the specs and monitored all of the materials used, through construction into occupancy,” Conlogue said.
Although the increased ventilation is a boost for the interior air quality, it also burdens the air conditioning and heating systems to an increased degree, he explained, so the company is weighing whether it is worthwhile to incorporate that feature in additional locations.
The use of low-VOC materials, however, is a no-cost switch and has already been incorporated into the plans for future store construction.
The store also is testing an underground heating system underneath where the cashiers stand and outside the front door — for ice melting in winter — using heat that is generated by the refrigeration system.
Other sustainable initiatives that were incorporated as part of the construction of the store included recycling and reduction of 95% of construction waste, the procurement of 22% of construction materials from local sources and 45% from regional sources, and the use of 86% Forestry Stewardship Council-certified wood.
Return on Investment
The cost of construction for the Augusta Hannaford was about 20% more than a typical new store, Conlogue explained.
“Clearly there is a significant premium, because of our desire to be bold,” he said. “We did some things here that we wanted to learn about that went beyond what we had to do for LEED, but we're pretty confident we will get a return on that investment over time, especially as it extends beyond this store, as we leverage this for new construction, remodels and existing stores.”
Conlogue said this was probably the only store that would seek the platinum level of LEED certification.
“I think platinum is a one-time shot,” he said. “It's OK for the prototype experience, but I think we will be seeking basic certification and silver [in future stores].
“Many of these things we will be doing anyway, whether or not we seek formal approval,” he added. “Clearly, at this level, LEED is a very good system. It is independent, and there is real value to this kind of rigor and independence in certification.”
Price Chopper's Holistic Effort
Price Chopper's sustainability efforts began with what Sweet described as a “macro” approach to sustainability, when in March of 2007 the chain switched from a segregated natural and organic offering to an integrated one, Sweet explained.
Customer response to the organic integration effort at Price Chopper was “incredible,” Sweet explained, and the company decided that such strong customer interest would apply to the greening of other areas of the store as well.
Price Chopper formed a sustainability committee, which includes a representative from every department to take a holistic approach to sustainability that now includes seeking LEED certification for all newly constructed stores.
In the Price Chopper location in Colonie, Sweet said the company incorporated many of the conservation elements it had been testing at other locations.
“One of the most obvious things to do was to look at our ground-up construction, and incorporate a lot of the things we had been testing in individual remodels,” he said.
For example, the company switched from the old-style T12 fluorescent lighting system to T8, then improved further to a T5 single bulb lighting fixture that it could run down the center of the aisle.
“This puts light where we want it, which is on the product, rather than on the ceiling or on the floor, so it created a much nicer lighting scheme,” Sweet explained.
Like Hannaford, Price Chopper also has added doors on its reach-in coolers to conserve cold air inside and is using LED lighting in the coolers.
The Colonie store incorporates many new elements as well, however, the most notable of which may be the use of a hydrogen fuel cell.
In partnership with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), Price Chopper worked with United Technologies, which is supplying the 400-kilowatt fuel cell. It is also working with NYSERDA and refrigeration equipment supplier Hill Phoenix at another location, where it is testing an experimental refrigeration technology using carbon dioxide.
“If the fuel cell is successful, which we believe it will be, the next 11 units will go to the World Trade Center site, and then we will get the next nine,” Sweet explained.
The fuel cell uses natural gas and actually splits the atoms, creating hydrogen and water. The hydrogen is used to generate electricity, and the water, in the form of highly purified condensation, can be used for other purposes in the store. The fuel cell also generates surplus heat that can be used in the winter to heat the environment and pumped through an exchanger and a chiller in the summer to create cool air.
“It allows me at the end of the day to reduce my dependence on the power grid by 60%,” Sweet said, and instead use natural gas, a “much more affordable commodity” in most Price Chopper markets.
Electricity costs about 14-20 cents per kilowatt-hour in most of the company's markets, he said.
The water generated, which Sweet said is “considerable,” can be used in the restrooms, for example, and also reduces the store's dependence on the public water supply.
“Water is going to be the next oil,” he said. “We are looking at water as a commodity that we need to reduce our need for and our consumption of so we can be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.”
Since the deployment of the fuel cell is a validation project for United Technologies, Price Chopper did not actually acquire the unit, but is instead leasing it. The lease program has a payback of less than seven years, Sweet said, noting that once the chain can buy such cells, it anticipates a payback within four to five years.
“Normally when you look at investment in the grocery industry, you want to see a payback within two or two and a half years,” he said. “With most of the green initiatives, you now are looking at something in the range of three to five years, but they have a big impact on your recurring operating expenses.
“That three to five years assumes a flat line on things like kilowatt-hour costs, natural gas costs and water costs, so we are very conservative in our estimate that payback will occur in three to five years. We hope that we are going to exceed that.”
Price Chopper is also using glycol technology in its refrigeration systems, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions, Sweet explained.
At a store in Saratoga, N.Y., Price Chopper is testing what Sweet described as the first carbon-dioxide refrigeration system in North America.
“We are now using glycol as the standard refrigerant on the secondary side, and we are working again with Hill Phoenix to develop this CO2 system, which could become the state of the art going forward,” Sweet said.
At the 64,000-square-foot Colonie store, which was built from the ground up, Price Chopper also introduced complete-store skylighting that is tied to an auto-dimming ballast on the lighting system.
“By virtue of the skylights and the energy-saving ballast, based on the modeling we have done, we are expecting to reduce our utility consumption minimally by 25%,” Sweet said.
Other sustainable elements of the store include:
• Floor tiles, shelving and steel-beam supports made from recycled products.
• Exclusive use of green cleaning solvents.
• Low-VOC paint.
• A biohydrator machine that converts meat scraps and produce trimmings to a liquid that's used as fertilizer.
When the company began planning the store about two years ago, it followed the proscribed LEED charrette for design and construction, Sweet explained. The construction included the re-milling and reapplication of existing blacktop, for example.
In addition, Price Chopper sourced as much material as possible from within 500 miles, and used precast concrete wall panels, made in the plant within 500 miles of the site. It also incorporated fly ash — a byproduct of coal burning from power plants — into the concrete mix, which earned another LEED point.
The store also worked with the developer to limit the amount of irrigation that is going to be required for the landscaping, selecting native species of plants that have a low water requirement and can be grown with normal rainfall.
Price Chopper has also rolled out a couple of other stores where it anticipates getting LEED certification — one in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and another in Hamilton, N.Y. — and has pledged to seek at least silver certification for all newly constructed stores.
Sweet said the company also hopes to be the first supermarket operator in the country to get stores certified under the new LEED guidelines being developed specifically for retail. Those two locations are in Warwick, N.Y., and Shrewsbury, Mass.
The recent openings of the LEED certified Hannaford Bros. and Price Chopper supermarkets in Augusta, Maine, and Colonie, N.Y., respectively, and the LEED certification of the remodeled Fred Meyer in Portland, Ore., and the Albertsons in La Habra, Calif., are just a few of the latest developments gaining LEED certification in the food retailing industry.
Among some of the others:
• Hy-Vee is seeking LEED certification for two stores in Madison, Wis., and Des Moines, Iowa.
• The Kenny Family ShopRites of Wilmington, Del., are planning to open the first LEED-certified store in Delaware in 2011, according to reports. The 70,000-square-foot store in Bear, Del., will anchor the new School Bell Crossing retail center.