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Sobeys has installed transcritical CO2 refrigeration systems in 36 stores, more than any other North American retailer.
When it comes to their relationship with the environment, the key breakthrough for many retailers occurs when they decide to measure their environmental impact, applying the old adage “what gets measured gets done.”
For Sobeys, Stellarton, Nova Scotia, that decision was made in 2008. The company set two environmental goals to achieve by the close of its 2013 fiscal year (ending in early May) — to reduce its carbon footprint by 15% and increase the amount of waste diverted from landfills by 30% — and began to regularly measure its progress toward those goals.
Sobeys had always pursued energy efficiency and engaged in waste management, but in 2008 “we formalized our approach, and my role was created,” said David Smith, vice president, retail strategy and sustainability. In particular, Sobeys implemented a web-based database tool that reported — initially on a monthly basis but now quarterly — on the progress of its corporate stores in, for example, energy consumption (in kilowatt-hours per square foot).
The energy consumption data is “harvested” from utility invoices and added to the database, allowing the company to compare energy efficiency across stores. “We can look at leaders and laggards,” Smith said. Moreover, the data gives Sobeys an indication of which stores would be the best fit for the installation of new technology aimed at boosting energy efficiency.
In its 2012 fiscal year — 80% of the way through its five-year plan — Sobeys’ corporate stores reduced their carbon footprint by 9.4%, distribution centers by 22% and corporate fleet by 12%, compared with the 2008 baseline number. The lion’s share of the carbon footprint — 84% — comes from the stores, so they are “going to have to pick it up” if Sobeys is to make its 15% overall reduction goal, Smith acknowledged. The DCs and fleet contribute 10% and 6%, respectively, to carbon emissions.
By contrast, the Kroger Co.’s total carbon footprint fell approximately 2% in 2011 (to slightly over 6.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent) from the 2010 level, according to its annual sustainability report released last week.
In assessing its carbon footprint, Sobeys found that two-thirds is created by electricity consumption. To save on electricity, the company has retrofit lighting in glass-door freezers with Immersion RV40 LED lights from GE Lighting Solutions, which resulted in a 63% reduction in electricity usage; LED lighting is also standard in all new refrigerated merchandisers. The implementation of glass doors on medium-temperature dairy cases led to a 70% electricity savings.
After electricity, 28% of its carbon footprint derives from refrigerant leaks. “It was a surprise for many of us that [the percentage from refrigerant leaks] could be that high,” Smith said. As a result the company has begun deploying environmentally friendly transcritical refrigeration systems while cutting the leak rates of existing systems.
Finally, 5% of the company’s carbon footprint comes from the use of natural gas, propane and diesel fuel. During the past year Sobeys’ diesel-propelled fleet reduced its CO2-equivalent emissions intensity by 12% compared to 2008. Measures implemented include: reduction of idling time; use of appropriately sized and equipped vehicles that match the volume and weight of the loads to be delivered; equipping tractors and trailers with aerodynamic devices (cab roof fairings, trailer side skirts and trailer fairings); and maximizing the space available in the trailers.
For setting ambitious environmental goals and for making significant headway toward achieving them, Sobeys has been named the winner of SN’s 2012 Sustainability Excellence Award in the chain category.
The second largest Canadian food retailer after Loblaw Cos., Sobeys, owned by Empire Cos., is a sprawling, 1,333-store operation that encompasses four regional business units (Atlantic Canada, Quebec, Ontario and Western Canada). It operates 618 corporate stores, including supermarkets, convenience stores, drug stores and fuel centers — of which supermarkets contribute the vast majority of revenue — and supplies 715 franchised stores.
The company’s five-year sustainability plan applies to its corporate stores, but “a big part of the focus is demonstrating the value and influencing the franchisees,” said Smith. Many franchised stores are “very receptive” to sustainability improvements, such as those in Quebec that have adopted transcritical refrigeration systems.
So far, the business units have been individually driving Sobeys’ environmental efforts, with support from a small corporate team, but the company is still trying to strike the right balance between a centralized and decentralized approach, said Smith.
Cost avoidance — such as the money saved in being more efficient with electricity usage — is one of the key performance metrics in Sobeys progress reports. “Those are in the millions of dollars,” said Smith. “When we talk to people in the line of business, accountable for the P&Ls, that gets them to sit up and listen for sure.”