Natural Foods Merchandiser

Grocers catch winds of change

For Scott Nash, opting for wind power and paying the premium was a no-brainer.

"I don't know why everyone isn't doing it," says Nash. "There are a million benefits. The obvious, the environment. All the others will go away if we commit ecocide."

Nash is the president and founder of My Organic Market, three stores in the Washington, D.C., area that in March 2005 went completely to wind power. The three stores—Nash plans to open a fourth in Frederick, Md., later this year—are about 10,000 square feet each. The average supermarket size in the United States is more than quadruple that, at 48,058 square feet, according to the Food Marketing Institute.

The wind power came at a cost—an extra $10,000 per year initially to purchase renewable energy credits, on top of an annual electric bill of $130,000 for three stores. But Nash says the premium has already dropped to an added $3,000 per year. That's just 2 percent more for choosing renewable power. FMI statistics put the cost of grocers' utilities, including gas, electric and water, at 1.2 percent of sales. The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts that domestic energy demand will rise 1.4 percent per year in 2006 and 2007, putting upward pressure on prices.

A renewable energy credit represents one megawatt hour of renewable energy that is physically metered and verified. That's one megawatt hour that isn't produced by nuclear energy, coal, oil or natural gas. Renewable energy advocates stress that there's no way to tell where or how an electron is produced or how to dedicate transmission. That's why the credits are used.

Each REC serves as a tracking and auditing mechanism and is used by state governments to ensure compliance with federal Renewable Portfolio Standards. Wind, solar, biomass, geothermal and low-impact hydroelectric power are considered clean energy sources.

Nash, who is Clean Energy Partnership's vice president and a member of a green chamber of commerce, helped negotiate a deal for retailers and consumers in the D.C. area. If customers sign up through Washington Gas and Electric, they will get half of their power by wind without paying a dime extra.

"So now, it's not painful anymore," says Nash.

While the cost was dropping, other statistics and attitudes were shifting for Nash and MOMs.

"It helps the bottom line," Nash explains. "It increases exposure, raises employee morale, helps recruit employees, helps retain employees. People look at you differently. They know we care. It increases customer loyalty. There's endless good."

Larger retailers know it too. Earlier this year, Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Market announced it would switch completely to renewable energy, powering 173 stores in the United States and Canada.

"Whole Foods is effectively replacing all their energy with wind energy," says Quayle Hodek, chief executive of Renewable Choice Energy of Boulder, Colo., the company that worked with Whole Foods to complete the deal. "Every megawatt hour of wind energy that goes in represents fewer emissions. In Whole Foods' case, that's 700 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, equal to about 60,000 cars taken off the road for a year."

Hodek, whose RCE is solely focused on wind power, says the trend of buying wind credits is moving toward the mainstream and that it's a perfect fit for natural products companies. He says that most wind being harnessed for power blows in California, Texas, Minnesota and Iowa, but other areas show promise.

"From North Dakota to Texas is the Saudi Arabia of wind," Hodek says. "We're in a huge wind corridor."

Renewable energy has many supporters in the naturals community, but relatively few independent naturals stores have made the switch to wind power, according to Billy Connelly, director of marketing at NativeEnergy of Charlotte, Vt. Economies of scale are one reason— a store chain the size of Whole Foods buys power in such volume that it can negotiate a much better price. Beyond that, Connelly says, "It's a voluntary market. There's no one mandating it. A large corporation has a system in place to communicate that message to get a return on their investment, like brand loyalty. A smaller company doesn't. It's more difficult to communicate and get the return."

Nash didn't stop at wind power. A year ago, MOMs launched its Environmental Restoration Initiative, with the idea that environmental damage must be reversed and the ecosystem restored.

The initiative tackled battery recycling, then composting. Its offices use only 100 percent recycled paper. MOMs gave every employee five free compact fluorescent bulbs to encourage their use. If workers buy a hybrid car, they get a $3,000 bonus. And under its latest program, Think Outside the Bag, MOMs issued reusable bags to customers and saved 10,000 bags the first month.

All this is from a guy who started a home delivery grocery business out of his mom's garage 19 years ago.

"We just want to show other people it's good for business," says Nash. "It's win-win. You help the future. It's a small expense."

Lori Ozzello is a writer and editor in Greeley, Colo.

Garden gives green for green power
What would happen if 250 naturals retailers committed to using 100 percent wind energy to power their stores? Almost 6,000 fewer tons of carbon would go into the environment each year, says Greg Horn, chief executive of health and nutrition products manufacturer Garden of Life.

Garden of Life, based in West Palm Beach, Fla., plans to make that a reality by sponsoring green credits for its top retail partners to switch to wind power, thereby offsetting the carbon footprints of the stores. So far, Garden of Life has switched over both its corporate headquarters and its fulfillment center to 100 percent wind power, and Horn says the next step toward becoming a more sustainable company is helping their retail partners convert as well.

"This will provide an economic incentive for increasing wind power production," Horn says. When the program launches in October, only the company's top 250 retail partners will be considered for the green credits, but Horn said other retailers who are interested should contact Garden of Life because he plans to expand the program to other retailers as quickly as possible.


How wind power works
Various energy sources, including wind, are used to turn turbines. The turbine shafts turn electromagnets surrounded by coils of copper wire inside generators, creating a magnetic field. Electrons in the copper move from atom to atom, producing electricity.

Electricity travels 186,000 miles per second. If a person traveled that fast, he or she could go around the world eight times in the time it takes to turn on a light.

Wind-power plants, or wind farms, are clusters of wind machines that produce electricity. A wind farm might have hundreds of machines in all shapes and sizes. These businesses sell the electricity they produce to electric utilities.

If wind farms are located on agricultural land, farmers can continue to grow crops around the machines. Wind energy costs less than a nickel per kilowatt hour to produce electricity. New coal plants cost four cents per kwh.

Tips to cut your cooler costs
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's EnergyStar program offers these ideas to save money on refrigeration, one of a grocer's biggest energy eaters:

  • Keep doors shut—repeated temperature fluctuations damage food quality and cost money.
  • Check temperature settings—if settings are too low, you may be wasting energy. Recommended settings are between -14 degrees and -8 degrees Fahrenheit for freezers and between 35 degrees and 38 degrees Fahrenheit for refrigerators.
  • Clean cooling coils—dirt impairs heat transfer and lowers efficiency.
  • Check door seals—tight seals and properly closing doors keep out warm air. If you can easily slide a dollar bill into the seal, it's time to have it adjusted.
  • Maintain equipment—perform scheduled maintenance and keep evaporator coils clean and free of ice build-up.
  • Do your homework—see how others have saved energy on their refrigeration systems.


Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVII/number 9/p. 22, 24

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