Energy Efficiency Pays Off

Savvy convenience store chains are leading the charge toward more energy efficient store equipment that both respects the environment and lowers operating costs, using everything from LED lighting and state-of-the-art cooler doors to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) buildings and clean fleet initiatives to do so.  

One stellar example of this trend comes from Alon USA, which recently launched its Clean Fleet Initiative to reduce the company’s environmental impact through the conversion of its 170-vehicle fleet to hybrid and clean diesel power.

Kyle McKeen, president and CEO of Alon Brands, said the company is extending the clean theme to the nearly 1,000 FINA locations in its network, and the program will apply to vehicles and retail facilities as well. The company also operates more than 200 7-Eleven convenience stores in Texas and New Mexico.

Doing the Right Things
“It’s the right thing to do for the environment and it matches well with what our partner Alon is doing, so we’re continuing the theme into our FINA stores,” said McKeen.

Clearly, McKeen observed, customers are increasingly becoming aware of the need for a clean environment and improved fuel efficiency. “Even though the days of $4 gas are behind us for now there appears to be a lasting focus on efficiency,” he said. “People have really gotten the message that this is something we need to do long-term. We can’t continue to waste energy the way that we have in the past.”

Furthermore, customer perceptions of retail companies often start with what they see and experience in the stores. “Customers equate cleanliness with safety, which is why clean is just as important to our retail team as it is to our colleagues who produce clean fuels,” McKeen said.

To that end, all of Alon Brands company vehicles will be either clean diesel or gasoline hybrids. The company is raising its clean standards at all of its locations, and will give away a clean diesel vehicle to the manager of its best-performing store.

Diesel’s Day Has Come
Why the emphasis on diesel fuels? “It’s no secret that our major partner, Alon USA, is becoming more focused on diesel than gasoline as the major output for their refineries,” McKeen noted, adding that diesel fuel provides a stronger margin at the refining and retail levels as well.

Given diesel’s 20% greater fuel efficiency, 20% fewer emissions and better margins, switching to diesel-powered fleets made exquisite environmental and economic sense, McKeen said. Plus, new diesel vehicles like the Volkswagen Jetta wagon, which gets 37 miles to the gallon, are now comparably priced to gasoline models, and have upped motorist demand for diesel fuel.

“We’re in this business for the long run,” McKeen noted. “Our customers are changing, and we’re going to stay ahead of that change. We want to make sure we have the right offering and the right stance.”

Environmental Dream Stores
A few states away from Alon’s territory, Iowa-based Kum & Go is also focusing on creating a greener environment in the way it designs its stores.

“We build roughly 20 new stores a year, and have been ramping up the energy efficiency and environmental aspects of the buildings for some time, doing what made sense from an economic standpoint,” said John Feldman, vice president of construction for Kum & Go, which has always been an environmental leader in the industry. Back in the 1970s, it was one of the first companies to begin selling ethanol, and in the mid-1990s led in introducing R85.

In January 2008, Feldman’s store architect pointed out that the building specifications for the two stores the company was then building were very close to base LEED certification standards. “We decided to take the next step,” Feldman said.

That step was clearly the right one to take: Kum & Go recently received a base LEED certification for one of those two stores and a silver LEED for the other. “We believe the silver award is the first in the Midwest,” Feldman said.

Kum & Go operates 430 stores in 11 Midwestern states.

Focused Approach
Achieving this entailed reviewing and considering numerous construction changes and choosing those that simultaneously made the most sense for the c-store environment and were attainable, Feldman noted. “We really focused on all the aspects of LEED, including how we handled storm water during and after construction, energy efficiency and indoor air quality, using a balanced approach,” he said.

Feldman chose a high-efficiency lighting system that included LEDs, both inside the store and under the gas canopies, and energy-free cooler doors made of multi-layered glass that remains condensation-free without using additional heat. On the exterior of the building, the company uses a highly reflective roof material that increases the store’s interior efficiency without adding to the urban heat island effect.

The company also opted for an ultra-light concrete mix that helps to reflect the sun and made extensive use of regional materials that didn’t need to be trucked far to lower the construction’s carbon footprint. “The brick, aggregate for the concrete and gypsum board were all mined and manufactured in central Iowa,” Feldman proudly noted.

Paperwork a Chore
Feldman was surprised by the amount of paperwork the LEED process requires. For example, Kum & Go received LEED points for the way it managed construction waste and recycling. “Our waste hauler actually carted waste off site, sorted it for us and documented how much was recyclable and how much went to the landfill,” he said. “Every load meant we had multiple pieces of paper to handle, scan and send to the U.S. Green Building Council.”

All along, Feldman stressed, the company’s decisions had to make good engineering and economic sense, which meant forgoing geothermal heating and cooling. C-stores generate enough interior heat through lighting and cooking. “Even on a fairly cold winter day, we still need to cool the building instead of heat it, so we bring in cold outdoor air, which would really reduce the payback on a geothermal system,” he said.

Kum & Go could have used LED lighting more extensively, but at the time these buildings were construced LED fixtures needed more development.

The road to LEED wasn’t altogether smooth in other ways as well, though using green products made it less rough. For example, municipalities’ fairly restrictive rules about light levels designed to keep light pollution low have always been annoying, especially when you compare a site lighted by LEDs to one lighted by halide fixtures.

But, when both sites have the same lumen output, the fact that the LED site will appear brighter because the human eye is more receptive to that type of light helps appease building inspectors.

“We used LEDs under the canopies for energy efficiency and also to provide the light levels perceived necessary for safety that we just couldn’t get with other lighting systems,” Feldman said. “The thing I’m most excited about is that what we’ve been building all along is very close to LEED levels. I’m certain that other ones would have passed if we had gone through the whole LEED process with them.” CSD

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