LOVELAND, Ohio (AP) - Grocery shoppers at the new Kroger Co.
store in this eastern Cincinnati suburb are bathed in sunlight,
from rows of 75 skylights.
It's the most noticeable among many features aimed at reducing
energy use by the nation's largest traditional grocery store chain.
The highly competitive grocery business - including leaders such as
Kroger, Wal-Mart Stores and Tesco PLC - is getting greener as
companies search for ways to cut costs and keep prices down.
The Kroger store also has compact fluorescent lights that
require less electricity and last 10 times longer than traditional
bulbs. Motion detectors help shut off lights when areas are
vacated. The store recycles exhaust to heat water, uses
more-efficient plastic fans instead of metal ones, and has concrete
floors that can be cleaned with water instead of chemical cleaners
used for tile.
"Given our size, we have a certain amount of responsibility to
the environment and to being a good citizen," said Rodney
McMullen, Kroger's vice chairman. "We take everything we save with
the energy reductions and we reinvest it with the customer ... in
lower prices or in improved service."
Environmentalists taking stock of corporate America before
annual Earth Day activities Sunday say there has been some progress
in recent years. Many companies, including giants such as General
Electric Co., General Motors Corp. and Exxon Mobil Corp., have
started campaigns to become more energy-efficient.
Businesses are responding to increasing public concern about
global warming, energy costs and dependence because it makes
financial and marketing sense, environmentalists say.
"They're not taking risks, they're responding to market
perceptions," said Kathleen Rogers, president of Earth Day
Network. "Are they in it for the good of mankind? Absolutely not,
they're in it for the money."
Dave Hamilton, director of the Sierra Club's global warming and
energy program, said grocers, with many power needs such as
refrigeration, can help their images while saving money.
"Kroger and Wal-Mart and others who are making these changes
are definitely winning on the bottom line as well as starting to
have something to show customers that they are doing the things we
need to do," Hamilton said. He said the chains have also increased
organic food offerings because of customer demand.
Salisbury, N.C.-based Food Lion LLC, subsidiary of the Brussels,
Belgium-based Delhaize Group, has been an industry leader in
cutting use since targeting energy costs consuming 7 percent to 10
percent of its operating costs nearly a decade ago. Food Lion
spokeswoman Kimberly Blackburn said the chain had been looking for
ways to reduce overhead so it could keep prices down, and decided
to partner with the federal Environmental Protection Agency in a
Among technologies Food Lion has adopted are demand control
systems that reduce energy during non-peak times, heat reclamation,
more-efficient refrigeration and automated lighting. Food Lion says
it has cut energy use 27 percent for its 1,300 supermarkets.
Kroger, which had $66 billion in 2006 revenues, says energy
consumption is down 20 percent since 2000. Company officials say
it's hard to state a total financial savings because energy prices
have been rising but estimate it at tens of millions of dollars.
"It's a critical cost element that they still have some room to
improve upon," said Craig Hutson, an analyst at the corporate bond
research firm Gimme Credit. "In an environment where it's
intensely competitive from a pricing standpoint, whatever you can
do on costs is going to help you generate profits."
Wal-Mart this year has opened what it calls "High-Efficiency
Supercenter" stores in Kansas City, Mo., and Rockton, Ill., that
use 20 percent less energy than typical grocery-selling
supercenters by using innovations in heating, cooling, water,
lighting and construction materials. The Bentonville, Ark.-based
retailer's chief executive, Lee Scott, said in a February speech
that it will work with suppliers to cut the use of fossil fuels,
adding to company environmental goals that Scott has said let
Wal-Mart "do well while doing good."
London-based Tesco, Britain's largest supermarket chain with $85
billion in revenues, in January announced plans to spend nearly $1
billion on a campaign to cut carbon emissions and persuade its
customers to buy environmentally friendly products.
Some suburban shoppers said if stores can go green and save them
some green at the same time, they're for it.
"The lighting seems better in this store; I've always been a
fan of skylights," Don Nickley said while loading his push cart
with food here on a recent afternoon.
"I think saving energy is great," added shopper Kathy
Dannemiller. "I don't know that it's making any difference in the
prices, but it certainly can't hurt anything."
The Kroger store here points out the conservation efforts with
signs featuring "Energy Dude." Each Kroger store also educates
workers on little things they can do. A sign in an employee area of
the store here advises: "Saving energy is not only good for the
environment, it's good for your paycheck. Every dollar we save
makes the company stronger, and your job more secure."
"My mother taught me all these things - turn off the light,
shut the freezer door, make sure all the equipment functions
properly," McMullen said. "But anytime you take it 2,500 times
(the number of Kroger stores) by 365 days, it adds up."