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Social Responsibility

From Green Produce to Green Programs

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S hoppers seeking organic foods and sustainable goods naturally want the stores they shop to be green as well. Market of Choice, based in Eugene, Ore., is a family-owned chain of eight grocery stores with an energy strategy that’s a model of conservation efforts.

President and CEO Rick Wright, son of founder Richard Wright, recently told the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance’s BetterBricks that his company is “committed to energy efficiency because we really want to be more sustainable, and because it’s smart financially — natural gas and electricity aren’t going to get any cheaper. We’ll spend the extra money up front to get the most efficient stores and reduce the stores’ demand for energy.”

Among the methods Market of Choice has used to reduce its energy consumption by 15 to 20 percent are employee training and routine equipment maintenance. The company also installed ceiling fans to circulate warm air from the ceiling to the floor, and its Green Waste Program diverts materials from local landfills by composting organic food waste on site.

But there are more capital-intensive efforts, like replacing outdated refrigeration with more energy-efficient units, which offer the best rate of return. “New cases are about 58 percent more efficient than the old,” Wright told BetterBricks. “The power savings, utility incentives and tax credits can yield two- to three-year paybacks.”

A bright idea
Another major energy conservation program is Market of Choice’s transition from high-intensity discharge (HID) and fluorescent lamps to watt-sipping LED lighting in produce sections and reach-in coolers and freezers. Market of Choice typically uses energy-efficient refrigerated cases by Hill Phoenix with fluorescent lighting; the lighting change-out program replaces conventional lamps with drop-in LEDs that use half the wattage, but offer equal or better luminance.

The program started with the chain’s Franklin Street store in Eugene and will likely roll out to other locations, says Scott Cook, Market of Choice’s sustainability coordinator. LEDs aren’t affected by moisture or extreme temperatures, don’t use environmentally damaging mercury, cut energy usage by 60 percent, emit less heat for the refrigeration system to dissipate, are brighter, have a five-times-longer lifecycle than fluorescent sources and offer a payback in five years, Cook says.

Produce sections in most Market of Choice stores will be receiving LED drop-in lamps in HID 42-watt fixtures. The HID change-out program is based on the success of the 160-fixture retrofit at the Willamette Street store in Eugene.

Letting the sunshine in
Since 2009, Market of Choice has been using 562 rooftop mounted SolarWorld 175-watt photovoltaic solar modules to generate electricity. Its Willamette location in Eugene produces solar energy with a 30.8-kilowatt photovoltaic (PV) system, one of the largest in the city.

A PV power inverter by Power-One connects the 130.0 kW DC system to the electric grid. Market of Choice sells the power to Oregon’s largest customer-owned utility, Eugene Water & Electric Board, which pays 12 cents/kWh on the 10-year contract. Market of Choice trumpets the efforts on its website in the form of simulated electric meters that show ongoing daily solar power generation statistics. Over the system’s lifecycle, it will save 2,800 tons of CO2 emissions vs. fossil fuel-based electric generation.

Beyond its stores, Market of Choice’s corporate offices are also using solar lighting generated from solar tracking skylights. A monitor/control system adds lumens of artificial light when solar lighting isn’t sufficient near dusk, dawn or on overcast days.

Cutting down on drafts, lowering costs
Several years ago, when both customers and employees were feeling chilled from drafts, air curtains were installed on the front and shipping doors at seven stores. Originally aimed at indoor air comfort, the stores have since experienced increased energy savings while reducing flying insect infiltration — an added benefit.

Most stores have stainless steel air curtains manufactured by Berner International. An air curtain employs a controlled stream of air aimed across an opening to create an air seal. This seal separates different environments, while allowing an unhindered flow of traffic and unobstructed vision through the opening. The air curtains are activated by a limit switch triggered when the door opens and deactivated on a five-second delay setting via Berner’s digital programmable Intelliswitch controller.

Joe Banas, national sales manager of Berner International’s food service division, says air curtains have “been in use for years on back door shipping areas for sanitary reasons.” More recently, he says, as energy costs have climbed, chains like Whole Foods Market, Lowes Foods and dozens of others have become interested in using air curtains to reduce the amount of energy lost through the front door.

Market of Choice’s sustainability efforts are proving to be winners both operationally and with customers. The grocery has remained popular and profitable throughout the recent economic downturn; last November the Willamette location received the 2011 “Food Service Trashbuster Award” from the Lane County Board of Commissioners and its Resource Recovery Advisory Committee. The award recognizes individuals, organizations and businesses for their efforts to reduce wasted resources, contributing to the health of the local community and the economy.