A Closer Look at Green Retail Facilities

June 8, 2009
See how three different retail facilities went green to save money and the environment

Although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) introduced the ENERGY STAR® labeling system in 1992, the rating wasn’t available for retail facilities until October 2007. Now, the well-known energy-efficiency rating isn’t the only thing motivating retail facilities to go green – growing concern about global climate change and the need to cut costs in the tough economic environment are driving retail facilities now more than ever to implement sustainable practices. Here’s how a few retailers are engaging in energy efficiency in their facilities – and saving both kinds of green.

Hand Motors
Hand Motors is a single-point car dealership in Manchester Center, VT. Its campus is a combination of two buildings, each about 18,000 square feet. According to Jim Hand, vice president at Hand Motors, the facilities run approximately 20,000 kilowatt-hours per month in electricity, which is produced by burning about 10,000 gallons of a combination of propane and No. 2 fuel oil, and about 6,000 to 8,000 gallons of waste motor oil and vegetable oil. While neither of the buildings has the ENERGY STAR label, the company participates in the ENERGY STAR Challenge, and it has been active in local green efforts; in March, it received the National Automobile Dealers Association’s (NADA) award for innovation in implementing effective initiatives to save energy, reduce utility costs, and protect the environment.

Hand sites one of his sons as the “driving force” behind the company’s energy savings. His son pushed a lighting-efficiency program in conjunction with Efficiency Vermont (a statewide provider of energy-efficiency services). Hand ended up retrofitting the lighting in his facilities; he replaced all of the lighting with CFLs, a project that reduced the monthly lighting bill to $2,900 from $4,000.

Additionally, Hand Motors uses recycled fuel and bio-fuels to produce some of its electricity. According to Hand, the new building, which was built four years ago, is heated almost entirely with waste motor oil and vegetable oil. This environmentally friendly tactic is also economically friendly: “It’s in the neighborhood of 6,000 to 8,000 gallons of fuel oil that aren’t purchased,” says Hand. Other eco-friendly endeavors taken on include installing motion detectors for vending machines, putting timers on electric hot water heaters, changing the timing of exterior lights, and mindset changes.

The transition to energy efficiency was fairly easy for the company. “Other than doing a fair amount of research and working with contractors, [it] wasn’t too hard,” says Hand. “I think the hardest part is getting people who are busy with their normal job descriptions turned [on] to the fact that we do have to watch energy consumption.”

In the automobile industry, it’s not just the environment that’s the driving force behind go-green efforts – it’s the economy as well. “It’s a very difficult time in the automobile business … these little pennies and nickels and dimes and dollars that we never worried about before become crucially important as to whether or not we’re going to survive,” says Hand. That’s not to say that efficiency initiatives don’t also have a profound impact on the environment. So far, Hand Motors has decreased its carbon footprint by about 35 percent, and it has plans to further reduce its environmental impact. “We pledged over the years to be a carbon-neutral dealership, so when we did these initial programs and did the reductions, we’ve purchased the balance of our carbon footprint in a particular kind of offset with a company called NativeEnergy,” says Hand.

Currently, Hand Motors also reduces peak-load demand in its facilities, which will reduce utility costs by another $400 or $500 per month.

Verizon Wireless
“We want the store to be a destination for our customers – it’s really important that they have an excellent experience, and we want the store to be energy efficient, so we want to marry those two initiatives together,” says Jeff Rotlisberger, associate director at Verizon Wireless in Folsom, CA, of Verizon Wireless’s go-green efforts. As the first wireless retailer to be awarded the ENERGY STAR label, Verizon Wireless uses the ENERGY STAR guidelines to benchmark energy efficiency in its communications stores that are at least 5,000 square feet in size. Currently, Verizon Wireless has 30 stores with the ENERGY STAR label.

Verizon Wireless started its energy-efficiency efforts with equipment. It installed temperature sensors; energy-management systems to monitor HVAC system use, control temperature setpoints, control internal/external lighting schedules, and track usage history for maintenance and service requirements; LED exit signs; and microcontrollers on vending machines. Additionally, Verizon does some sealing on building envelopes to make sure entryways are airtight for heating and cooling purposes. An energy-management system turns off the company’s 61,000 desktops late at night, and “thin clients” technology is used in its call centers to further reduce energy consumption.

The ENERGY STAR program has been an important part in helping Verizon Wireless implement green initiatives. Rotlisberger encourages other retailers to take advantage of ENERGY STAR resources. “I really feel that it’s been very helpful in us engaging our workforce,” says Rotlisberger. “The folks we work with [have been most helpful with] reviewing facility performance and looking for facilities that have a lot of room for improvement, and also identifying those that need to be recognized for excellent performance.”

Rotlisberger says that integrating the initiatives between old buildings and new can sometimes be a challenge, especially if there’s a store expansion or remodeling, but the payback is big. “The benefit, really, is the customer/employee comfort. For example, we discover that properly balancing HVAC systems solves that problem in many cases,” says Rotlisberger. “A positive impact, obviously, is that the energy efficiency translates to reduced energy consumption, and, accordingly, a savings is associated with that. So, that’s really a big gain.”

According to Rotlisberger, Verizon Wireless also makes an effort to keep employees informed of environmental initiatives. By way of internal communication, there are releases of accomplishments in the area of ENERGY STAR, and other programs are widely communicated, which Rotlisberger says “raises the awareness of the employees looking to recycling in their facilities, turning the lights off, etc.” The company also has environmental programs in which customers can participate. Another way that Verizon Wireless encourages its customers to go green is by providing a paperless billing and online accounting-management option.

Kohl’s Department Stores
For Kohl’s Department Stores, sustainability is an all-encompassing effort. The nationwide department store chain has more than 200 stores with the ENERGY STAR label, and it’s the largest retail host of solar power in the world. Nearly 70 of Kohl’s stores generate energy from rooftop solar panels, which provide 20 to 50 percent of those stores’ energy needs. Additionally, the EPA recently announced that Kohl’s is the No. 1 purchaser of green power among retailers – in 2009, Kohl’s purchased more than 600 million kilowatt-hours of green power through renewable energy credits in areas such as solar, wind, and landfill gas.

“Kohl’s recognizes the significant value of green power for its business, its customers, and the environment,” says Ken Bonning, executive vice president of store planning and logistics at Kohl’s. “Purchasing renewable energy credits not only helps Kohl’s work toward the goal of reducing its carbon footprint, but it also helps fund additional renewable energy projects that will have a positive impact on our communities in the future.”

The ENERGY STAR rating in Kohl’s stores means that the facilities use an average of 35-percent less energy than typical buildings and release 35-percent less carbon dioxide. Kohl’s ENERGY STAR stores feature centralized energy-management systems, occupancy-sensor lighting, and high-efficiency lighting, heating, and cooling systems. The energy-management efforts have prevented greenhouse-gas emissions equal to the electricity use from 37,675 households for a year.

“Through environmentally responsible practices and initiatives, such as energy management and green building design, we reduce operating costs and create a comfortable shopping and work environment,” says Bonning.

In addition to being involved in ENERGY STAR, Kohl’s participates in several other national and local environmental programs. Beginning in Fall 2008, Kohl’s committed to building new ground-up stores to a pre-certified LEED® Silver, including 45 stores that opened in Fall 2008 and 18 stores opening in Spring 2009. Characteristics of Kohl’s LEED stores include on-site recycling, water-efficient landscaping, regionally sourced building materials, and construction activity pollution prevention. These features help Kohl’s reduce waste, reduce emissions, and conserve resources.

Additionally, Kohl’s is an active member in Business for Social Responsibility, U.S. EPA Green Power Partnership, U.S. EPA WasteWise, U.S. EPA Climate Leaders, Retailer Energy Alliance, U.S. Green Building Council, and Wisconsin Partners for Clean Air.

Amanda B. Piell ([email protected]) is news editor at Buildings magazine.

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