Whole Foods commits to reduce energy use

Allots $10 million over the next 18 months for additional retrofit and upgrade projects

Whole Foods Market is stepping up its efforts to reduce energy consumption at all stores by 25% per square foot by 2015. The natural and organic foods supermarket operator has committed to a combination of strategies -- more on-site renewable energy, aggressive green building, wind energy and advanced refrigeration and transportation practices -- along with the implementation of energy and emissions tracking systems to reach its goal and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“Saving energy costs less than buying it, so we are reducing our appetite for energy from both traditional and renewable sources,” said Kathy Loftus, global leader of sustainable engineering and energy management, Whole Foods Market, Austin, Texas, which operates some 292 stores in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.

Comprehensive retrofit and upgrade projects, which include smarter refrigeration, state-of-the-art lighting and controls systems, and advanced efficiency motors for HVAC and refrigeration, have already led to reduced consumption in Whole Foods’ existing stores.

“After initial metering results led us to estimate that energy reductions may be close to 20 million kWh over the past two years, we were motivated to earmark $10 million over the next 18 months for additional retrofit and upgrade projects,” Loftus said.

The company is taking it up a notch in new stores, utilizing energy-efficient design, alternative refrigerants, and advanced systems to dramatically reduce the amount of energy and traditional refrigerant gas that is employed. Several locations have been awarded the Environmental Protection Agency’s GreenChill certification, which recognizes eco-friendly commercial refrigeration systems.

Whole Foods’ emphasis on reduced energy use is already apparent in several new locations. Its Colorado’s SouthGlenn store, for example, is using roughly 35% less energy than two older stores nearby, but is only about 15% smaller than the stores. And Whole Foods in Santa Barbara, Calif., is using 45% less energy than a nearby store of comparable size.

In another initiative, Whole Foods is working with National Renewable Energy Labs (NREL) through the Department of Energy’s Commercial Buildings Project to help design and build a store that will be 50% more efficient than current energy-efficiency codes and to retrofit an existing store to be 30% more efficient than current energy efficiency codes.

“The goal is to transfer the knowledge gained from these projects to help transform the designs across all buildings to help Whole Foods Market and other retailers transform how buildings are built and operated,” said Michael Deru, senior engineer, NREL.

Renewable Energy: This is the fourth year that Whole Foods will offset 100% of its electricity use at its North American locations with wind energy credits. The chain is purchasing 810,000mWH though 3Degrees, San Francisco.

On-site renewable energy also figures into Whole Foods’ game plan, with 15 locations currently supplementing traditional power with solar energy and more in development. The company’s store in San Jose, Calif., plans to host a fuel cell, making it the first supermarket in California that will generate enough electricity on site to meet 90% of its needs. (Whole Foods’ facilities in Glastonbury, Conn., and Dedham, Mass., already have on-site hydrogen fuel cells, and more are planned for future locations.)

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