Even small, sustainable initiatives can resonate with customers and improve a convenience store’s bottom line.
By Erin Rigik, Associate Editor.
The verdict is in: A growing number of customers are becoming environmentally-conscious and they prefer to spend their money at stores doing their part to grow sustainability.
Retailers across all channels are beginning to cash in on this trend—and the savings that comes from a commitment to energy efficiency—by adding unique programs from earth-friendly coffee blends to recycling initiatives and full-blown LED lighting.
A recently released survey conducted by Boston-based public relations firm Cone Communications, found 71% of Americans now consider the environment when making purchasing decisions, up from 66% in 2008. The survey also found that 85% of respondents would like manufacturers and other companies to offer better information regarding, not only how to use products, but how to dispose of them properly. About three-quarters of those surveyed would like companies to do a more effective job of educating consumers regarding environmental terms.
Nearly 70% said they think it’s OK for a company to not be “environmentally perfect” as long as it is honest about it. Conversely, 78% indicated they would outright boycott a product if they discovered the company had made a false environmental claim.
What’s more, a 2012 Nielsen survey that polled more than 28,000 online respondents from 56 countries around the world found 66% of consumers prefer to buy products and services from companies that have implemented programs to give back to society. They also prefer to work for these companies (62%), and invest in these companies (59%). Meanwhile, (46%) are willing to pay extra for products and services from these companies. In other words, it pays to go green.
Tracking the Trends
Kum & Go is one retailer hearing the cry. The chain, which operates some 400 convenience stores in 11 states, is forging a determined path of environmental consciousness, a cause that resonates especially in the Colorado communities where it is currently growing its fleet of stores.
Nearly all of the chain’s new stores are designed, constructed, and submitted for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. It hires local subcontractors and gets a minimum of 20% of its construction materials from regional sources. Its wood products are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council to come from sustainable forests, and it recycles construction materials when it can, including concrete and steel.
For better indoor air quality, Kum & Go is using no or low volatile organic compounds (VOCs) paint and adhesives, flooring and wall coverings. The addition of low-flow sinks, toilets and urinals on new builds is helping to reduce the chain’s water consumption by 20%. Solatube skylights are used to maximize the benefit of natural lighting. Advanced refrigeration systems, Energy Star equipment and LED lighting helped the chain improve its energy efficiency within its stores by a whopping 30%.
“Having a sustainability message at our stores, we believe, is a good business practice,” said David Miller, senior vice president of marketing for Kum & Go.
In addition to the financial benefit and positive environmental impact, “it helps communicate back to our customers that Kum & Go not only cares about the communities we serve, but about our impact on those communities as well,” Miller said.
Peter Tedeschi, president and CEO of Tedeschi Food Shops, CSD’s 2012 Convenience Store Chain of the Year, closed out the NACS State of the Industry (SOI) Summit last month with a recap of the challenges facing the retail industry. Among the frustrations listed included the vilification of the convenience store industry by policy makers pointing fingers at c-stores for everything from neighborhood violence to obesity.
Tedeschi called for retailers to fight these perceptions within their communities with careful messaging, through community outreach and even volunteer and charity events within the market to repaint public perception of the store.
In an age when customers care about environmental issues, sustainability and recycling, c-stores can turn to a wide spectrum of eco-friendly fixes to paint themselves in a positive light among their communities.
But jumping into LEED certification isn’t the only option. Numerous shades of green business practices exist that can equally raise your image with customers for little to no cost. For example, Atlas Oil’s new Earth Market c-store concept celebrated its grand opening on Earth Day (see page 10), touting a recycling initiative that gives customers cents off hot dispensed and refrigerated beverages when they return coffee cups and PET bottles for recycling. The chain is also upping coffee sales with a Rainforest Alliance certified coffee blend.
Channel Race For Efficiency
The c-store channel isn’t the only channel saving money and wooing customers with environmental consciousness. At a time when channel wars are waging on everything from foodservice to beer, it appears efficiency could become the next battle zone.
Walgreens, for example, announced in March that it plans to build the nation’s first net-zero energy retail store in Evanston, Ill., utilizing solar panels, wind turbines, geothermal technology, energy-efficient building materials, LED lighting and ultra-high-efficiency refrigeration.
The drug store giant plans to register the store for LEED Platinum status—the most stringent green designation by the U. S. Green Building Council—and plans to enter the store into the International Living Future Institute’s Living Building Challenge. Walgreens has additionally committed to a chain-wide 20% energy reduction by 2020.
Meanwhile, United Supermarkets, is making lighting upgrades to help its new United Express convenience stores in Texas become more energy efficient.
“We are making strides in the area of being more energy efficient by using LED lighting in everything from cases and equipment to product lighting,” said Rob Bichard, director of facilities support and development for United Supermarkets LLC. “There are multiple considerations when looking at lighting from a lifecycle cost. We try to marry the best lumen output with the most energy efficient fixture and the lowest lifecycle cost. We have looked at all LED options such daylighting with dimmable controls, etc.”
At the newest United Express location in Texas, the company has installed a mixture of all-LED in all coolers and freezers along with product lighting, to T5’s on the sales floor to achieve the ideal light levels.
Tops Friendly Markets, a grocery retailer with 153 locations in New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont, recently added Cree CS18 luminaires and Cree CR24 troffers to light specialty departments and pharmacy for an estimated energy savings of 70% over the T5 fluorescent lighting it had previously installed. The lights helped the store improve top shelf to bottom shelf illumination in the aisles.
“LED is the way to go in the future, by effect of the energy savings and avoiding maintenance without having to touch or replace your lamps for several years,” said Tops Markets’ energy consultant, Daniel Jaszka. “In-store, just make sure you’re looking at the proper color rendition for the LED product you want to use, and make sure it’s available in the warmer color temperatures. In our stores we’re also using LED in our refrigerated cases and, especially in c-stores, that makes sense there because of the energy efficiency it offers.”
Lighting Melds Fashion and Function
GE is proving that lighting can aid design while increasing efficiency. Today’s LED retail lighting fixtures are creating more modern ceiling landscapes and visually striking possibilities for lighting designers. The new Lumination EL Series LED Luminaire, for example, is minimal and exceptionally thin. Suspended from the ceiling and powered with GE’s Intrinsx Optical Technology it is nearly transparent when off, with individual LED diodes hidden inside the frame so as not to detract from the look of the environment where it is installed.