Going Green to Reduce Costs

Wanting to help save the world is admirable, but unless a real cost-savings can be realized convenience store operators seem to agree this economy is not the best time to be experimenting with “green” investments.

The key to sustainability issues, then, is finding that balance, and that’s where several c-store chains are differentiating themselves.

Scott Zaremba, president and CEO of eight-store Zarco 66 in Lawrence, Kan., said his company has been trying for several years to create sustainable sites, or at least move toward greater sustainability. “The whole idea behind going green is sustainability—but it’s got to have an ROI,” he said. “If you can improve what you’re doing and have a payout on the short-term… it is a win-win.”

That seems to be the common feeling with other progressive convenience store chains.

“In Virginia we had an 18% increase in electric rates,” explained Jeff Miller, president and CEO of Miller Oil Co., a 52-store chain in Norfolk, Va. “I want to be a good guy and all of that stuff by caring for the environment, but right now we’re really looking at how we control a cost that’s getting out of hand.”

At Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes Inc. in Canastota, N.Y., devotion to energy savings grew at its 83 stores as executives watched their utility costs rise considerably over the last five years, according to Peter Tamburro, senior executive vice president.

“I think initially it was the cost factor, driving costs down. We said, ‘we need to do something about this. We need to be more energy efficient to continue to keep our locations profitable.’ At the same time, it has grown into a fundamental value belonging to the corporate culture, as well,” Tamburro said. “We’re now discussing other types of renewable energies like wind and solar.”

Green initiatives should never hurt the bottom line. “The idea is to enhance them, and that’s a matter of finding that balance,” Zaremba said, admitting that his own company went overboard at the outset before dialing things down at other locations.

For example, the Zarco 66 prototype offers five varieties of biodiesel fuel and ethanol-enriched gasoline; a wind turbine to generate energy at the store; LED lighting under the canopy; it put a green ‘living roof’ on the coffee house that includes flowers and grass to provide a layer of insulation to keep the building cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter; and now it’s looking at putting a rain garden in to take care of some of the water run-off.

Negotiating Savings
Navigating the multitude of solutions now available has become a full-time job. That’s where a third-party could become a good resource.

“One of the things we’ve done, and one of the biggest changes we’ve made was hiring a company called Power Management out of Rochester, N.Y., “ said Tamburro. “They actually deal with the utilities and negotiate for and procure our energy.”

With their help, the chain is able to get the best year-long price it can for its corporate and franchise locations’ usage. “They act as the energy broker for us. We’ve built an aggregate, which has given us 83-store buying power versus being just a 37-store corporate group.”

For the past year, Tamburro reported, Nice N Easy has saved well over six figures using the firm.

Another investment that has paid off for Nice N Easy has been its switch to interior and exterior LED lighting. The chain’s newer stores feature cooler doors with LED lighting, instead of fluorescent tubes, and without heaters. Heaters in doors are commonly used to keep the display windows fog free.

“We’ve gone to an Emerson (Climate Technologies in St. Louis) CPC product that controls and detects things in the stores like relative humidity and controls the HVAC,” Tamburro said. “Once the humidity is removed from the units, they are less apt to have the windows fog up and decrease visibility.”

Management has also elected to go with a Hussman Protocol system, a compressor rack system. “Instead of having multiple motors outside for each individual piece of equipment, we have a rack system with four compressors,” Tamburro explained. “Each level kicks in based on the demand of the entire store.”

The CPC product, called the E2 CX facility management system, is manufactured by Retail Solutions–a division of Emerson, detects how much power is needed. The protocol system then runs the motors.

Nice N Easy is also beginning work in one location on daylight harvesting, where the E2 CX facility management system will recognize that a store is filled with light and shut the fluorescents down around the interior perimeter where all the windows are.

Management recently hired some outside experts to help decipher all the information on this renewable energy. “Whether it’s geothermal, wind or solar, these are the types of renewable energy sources we are looking at,” Tamburro said.

The chain is also working with another company that is reviewing a handful of locations to see what types of renewable energy is best suited for each. For example, they are conducting wind tests to see whether velocity is sufficient for use on fuel canopies.

Achieving Balance
Help in achieving the right balance in green practices is more available than ever. For example, quite a few utilities now are giving rebates for these types of investments. “Of the four utilities I deal with, one of them is doing it now, and we are in the process of discussing what we can get from the other three,” Zaremba said. Something simple, he added, is LED lighting. “The ROI looks to be about four years, but on top of that it will help us reduce consumption and endear us to the community.”

An important first step, Zaremba believes, is getting known in your community as someone who wants to start making investments in greener practices. “Start making those business contacts, especially with the utilities,” he said. “Call around to see what is available, and look to see what the state can do for you.”

A good second step is finding a vendor that supports whatever methods you have come up with, and some of the things are relatively simple.

“If you want something you have today without spending another dime other than normal maintenance, then look at your maintenance plan,” Zaremba said. “Dramatic savings can be had by simply cleaning cooler fins, condensers and coils. Most of them or dirty and don’t get cleaned enough, so you are using more utilities, your equipment works harder, and it shortens the life of your equipment.”

Water systems can also provide savings. “Nobody ever notices the water bill in a convenience store. Sometimes it’s relatively high, and you don’t realize that the toilet’s leaking, or the ice machine is blowing more water through it than it should, so that’s a maintenance issue,” Zaremba said.

Another easy step is recycling. “Put the recycle bins out and recycle the aluminum. What happens? You cut the amount of trash that you have to haul off,” Zaremba said. “You might even be able to get somebody to pay you to come get some of your recyclables.”

The takeaway is to go for the low-hanging fruit. “Analyze what you’re doing today and what you can change today without having to spend any money,” Zaremba said. “That’s your first key in trying to determine sustainability: What can I do with what I have? It’s really pretty simple.” CSD

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