WASHINGTON — Safeway has softened the tread of its carbon footprint by converting its 1,000-truck fleet to biodiesel fuel.
Projected to save 75 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions annually, the switch marks the retailer's latest step toward reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 1.5% per year over a four-year period ending in 2010.
“We at Safeway believe we are the greenest grocer in the nation,” Joseph Pettus, Safeway's senior vice president of fuel and energy operations, said during a presentation at the Grocery Manufacturers Association's Sustainability Summit here earlier this month. “In fact, I'll up the stakes and say we believe we are the greenest corporation in the U.S.”
Safeway finances its “self-funded” green programs with savings gleaned from having energy providers compete for its business, he said.
Energy is Safeway's single largest cash expense behind employee-related costs. It aggressively pushes for open-access electricity markets.
“We found power plants in California that were underutilized and not part of the utility,” noted Pettus. “These were brand new, state-of-the-art, combined-cycle, natural gas-fired power plants. We saved money, we reduced our greenhouse gas emissions and took part of our money to fund our greenhouse gas reduction. It's a win-win-win.”
Safeway stands to profit from its green initiatives if it exceeds its greenhouse gas emissions target. The retailer's voluntary pledge to meet the target is legally binding and was forged as part of its membership in the Chicago Climate Exchange.
“If we don't meet our target, we have to buy credits from other members of the exchange, but if we exceed it, then we can sell them,” said Pettus.
Safeway's goal is lofty, considering it's based on the level of greenhouse gases the company emitted in 2000. “By the end of this decade we need to be 6% below where we were at the beginning of the decade,” explained Pettus.
Although he didn't give any indication of Safeway's annual levels of greenhouse gas emissions, a report the retailer filed in March with the California Climate Action Registry shows that its direct (mobile and stationary combustion) and indirect (purchased electricity, steam and heating and cooling) greenhouse gas emissions totaled more than 560,000 metric tons in 2006.
The retailer's San Francisco and Boulder, Colo., locations, its entire corporate campus in Pleasanton, Calif., and about 300 of its gas stations are powered by 100% renewable wind energy. By the end of 2008 more than 25 Safeway stores will be powered with solar panels.
Safeway recently negotiated preferential prices on solar panels and installation for its employees' homes.
“We told our vendors that we wanted them to give to employees what they've been giving to us,” said Pettus.
Safeway also celebrated its first energy awareness month with employees last October. During that time it distributed 600,000 free compact fluorescent light bulbs.
“The idea is if you can put one CFL light bulb in every house, you can eliminate one power plant in every state,” said Pettus.
Safeway also hosts an intranet tool that allows employees to calculate their carbon footprint by entering their home energy use, the make, model and year of their car as well as their annual mileage. If they'd like to become more carbon-neutral, they can purchase renewable energy credits on the site as well.