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Survey tracks retailer’s energy management, sustainability efforts

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By D. Scott Beaver, sbeaver@prenova.com

A recent survey conducted by Chain Store Age and Prenova suggests that energy management and sustainability are important topics for retailers. Whether focused on controlling costs, or simply trying to minimize waste, the industry is taking steps to reduce energy consumption. With over 180 responses from retailers of every size, the annual study paints an interesting picture.

Gaining in importance. Still lacking direction.
Now in its second year, the 2010 survey found that energy management and sustainability are increasing in importance among retailers. Over 45% of those responding stated that sustainability is a key component of their business strategy. Another 40% indicated that sustainability is very important to their organization, though not a top priority. This represents a 6% improvement versus 2009. Only 15% of retailers said their organization isn’t doing anything to improve sustainability.

Being concerned about energy and environmental issues, however, doesn’t necessarily translate into a specific plan of action. Survey results suggest only 63% of retailers have developed a formal energy management strategy. This compares with 85% who believe energy management and sustainability are either critical issues or at least very important. Though an improvement over last year, these results indicate that a third of retailers still lack a cohesive plan.

Given these results, it’s not surprising that fewer retailers believe they’re industry leaders when it comes to sustainability. When asked last year, 41% of those responding felt their sustainability efforts put them ahead of their peers. This number fell dramatically in 2010. Today, only 22% of retailers see themselves as industry leaders. With the publicity surrounding Walmart’s achievements, people may have realized just how difficult it is to lead the industry.

Tangible steps that save money
Many people worry that increased consumer focus on the environment will lead to rampant greenwashing. Fortunately, this doesn’t seem to be a major problem in retail. Less than 10% of respondents stated their organization’s sustainability programs were designed to enhance the corporate image. Saving money was by far the biggest reason companies are pursuing energy management. In fact, over 60% of retailers listed “saving money” as the No. 1 reason for developing a sustainability strategy.

There are lots of ways retailers can control energy spend, but installing energy efficient lighting is the most common approach. Eighty percent of those responding to the survey indicated they were investing in updated lighting technology. Other common energy efficiency measures include conducting energy audits (49.7%), rolling out energy management systems (46.3%), and installing HVAC economizers (41.1%). The out-of-pocket costs associated with these initiatives can often be defrayed by taking advantage of utility-sponsored rebates. Yet, only 40% of retailers have done so. Utility bill audits are also popular with retailers, with 50% indicating they use this tactic to help control energy spend.

Additional opportunities abound
This year’s survey also identified a couple of underutilized approaches that more retailers should investigate: Energy Star and LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certification. Less than one third of respondents indicated they participate in Energy Star’s retail-oriented program. And less than one quarter of those who responded are pursuing LEED certification. These are definitely missed opportunities. Energy Star is particularly useful. The program helps retailers track energy usage and compare their performance against industry benchmarks. It also provides valuable energy savings recommendations. Best of all, it’s free!

For more insights from the 2010 survey, download Energy Management Strategy in Retail.

D. Scott Beaver is director of marketing of Prenova, Atlanta. He can be reached at sbeaver@prenova.com.

© 2014