Top Ten United States Retail Chains with Cleantech Initiatives

Many retailers are not looking at “going green” as just a fad, but rather a new route for businesses to focus on. As consumers become much more aware and start taking on a “green attitude” in relation to the environment, numerous retailers are looking to meet those needs. Today, numerous retailers are implementing a number of sustainable practices that enable them to become much more energy efficient, and not only save themselves some additional money, but the environment in the process.

1) Whole Foods has been at the top of the green initiative game for a number of years. It was the first major retail chain to offset 100 percent of their energy use using wind energy credits in 2006 for all American and Canadian stores. This action won them the 2006 and 2007 Environmental Protection Agency Green Power Partner of the Year Award. There are also a number of initiatives concerning recycling as well. Whole Foods stores have been implementing a paperless ordering system, use biodegradable supplies for wine and food sampling, and they do composting. Not only that but they promote the use of reusable grocery bags as well. The Sarasota, Florida store gained Silver LEED Certification and is considered the first environmentally friendly supermarket in the United States.

2) Walmart has taken the environmental impact of their retail chain very serious. The CEO of Walmart said in 2005 that he wants the retail chain to be the first to be completely supplied by renewable energy and create zero waste. Since this statement, Walmart has made numerous efforts to go green. For example, in 2007, the retail chain decided to sell only liquid concentrated laundry detergent to save plastic and transportation costs. Walmart has also asked all suppliers to reduce their carbon footprint. Another example is that Walmart will only sell shrimp from non-polluting farms.

3) Safeway in 2006, signed a contract with the Chicago Climate Exchange that committed them to decreasing its carbon footprint from all stores, headquarters, and warehouses by 39,000 tons. Safeway is the only retail chain to make this claim. In the deal, if the company falls short of the target each year, it needs to purchase carbon credits from companies. If Safeway goes over the target, they can sell the credits. To achieve these goals, Safeway has purchased over 80 million kilowatt-hours of wind energy yearly, which is enough to power all 312 retail fuel stations, all stores in Boulder, Colorado and San Francisco, California, and all corporate facilities. This helped put Safeway at number seven on the EPA’s list of top “green retailers” in 2008. In 2007, Safeway installed solar photovoltaic panels in 23 California stores.

4) Best Buy in 2008 announced a new plan to reduce all greenhouse gas emissions in all stores. All new stores are build with high efficiency HVAC and lighting systems, they have implemented a no-idling policy for all the fleet, started testing various renewable energy sources such as solar panels on a few stores, and they have upgraded the networking for the centralized energy management system to keep track of all energy spikes within stores and operations. According to the President and COO of Best Buy, Brian Dunn, “This commitment to reduce our emissions signals our willingness to invest in even more efficient operations today, which will save money over time and help us to meet the expectations of our customers, employees, and shareholders.”

5) Home Depot has been working diligently to reduce domestic supply chain greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by the year 2015. To do this, they have implemented a number of initiatives. In 2007, Home Depot established Eco Options that allow consumers to identify products that meet the exact needs and have a reduced environmental impact. These products fall under various categories, including household cleaning products, clean air and water conservation products, sustainable forestry, and energy efficient products. Home Depot also has an in-store recycling program for CFLs and partnered with The Conservation Fund to offset carbon emissions at the Atlanta headquarters.

6) Target has taken climate change seriously through a number of initiatives. In Chicago, Illinois four Target retail stores have a green roof, all stores throughout the nation are outfitted with energy efficient HVAC and lighting equipment and all coolers are installed with LEDs to assist in saving 50 percent of total energy consumption. Target has also reduced its overall demand for energy throughout peak periods by adjusting their building systems.

7) Walgreens is the largest retail drugstore chain in the United States and over the last decade Walgreens has been taking on a number of green initiatives to help the environment and save costs. 17 Walgreens stores and two distribution centers have solar panels that supply 20 percent of all electricity needs. In 2007, Walgreens started using LED systems for all refrigerated display cases that saved over $1,500 annually. Currently, Walgreens is developing a new test store in Mira Mesa, California, which is going to be considered the “greenest” Walgreens, and will include bike racks, designated parking areas for energy efficient cars, reduced irrigation, special plumbing fixtures to decrease water consumption, energy efficient lighting and HVAC systems, and skylights.

8 ) Costco has taken on a number of efforts to reduce their overall environmental impact, including the installation of large solar arrays on all the roofs of their California and Hawaii based stores. Some other changes being made include making packaging and shipping more efficient, recycling everything from pallets to cardboard boxes and light bulbs, reducing the amount of clamshell packaging, increasing the organic food section of the store, and increasing consumer recycling programs for light bulbs and electronics.

9) CVS Caremark has been focusing on one of the biggest problem many retailers face – plastic bags. Today, all CVS Caremark stores have implemented the Greenbacks for Green Bags program. Through a customer loyalty program, customers are rewarded 25 cents when they use reusable bags. Customers pay 99 cents to get a Green Bag Tag Card and when the purchase is complete the card is scanned. After four shopping trips, customers receive a $1 off total purchase ticket.

10) Army Air Force Exchange is the largest and oldest retailer for the United States Department of Defense and is currently undergoing a number of energy-saving initiatives to decrease environmental impact. This includes using Energy Star rated machines, including beverage machines. As well, AAFES is also working with a number of popular fast food franchises to reduce energy consumption, including Burger King, Subway, and Taco Bell. These initiatives include LED lights and building designs that are eco-friendly. A number of the projects are looking to receive Silver LEED certification, including to retail pilot facilities at Ft. Polk and Randolph AFB.

Article by Shawn Lesser, Co-founder & Managing Partner of Atlanta-based Watershed Capital Group – an investment bank assisting sustainable fund and companies raise capital, perform acquisitions, and in other strategic financial decisions. He is also a Co-founder of the GCCA Global Cleantech Cluster Association ”The Global Voice of Cleantech”. He writes for various cleantech publications and is known as the David Letterman of Cleantech for his “Top 10″ series. He can be reached at

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4 comments on “Top Ten United States Retail Chains with Cleantech Initiatives

Rafael Coven

This is a good start, though given our experience working with major retailers across the U.S. and Canada we would say this only one side of the story.

The retail industry is absolutely cut-throat, kill for a nickel business. With razor-thin margins, an overbuilt environment, on-line retailing growth and difficulty maintaining any competitive advantage, these companies are LOATHE to share publicly their successes about any technology or solution that really works well for them. This is not at rule of thumb; it’s a rule, period.

Next: these companies have tremendous difficulty deploying any technology more complicated than a lighting retrofit across their organizations. It would be interesting to see how many of their stores have actually implemented a particular technology solution.

Recycling, bag policies, bike racks, and sustainable wood products are procedures and policies – they are NOT cleantech solutions.

Moreover knowing many of these companies well (without naming names), the gap between what they announce publicly and what they tell us privately is often enormous.

Finally, capital budgeting at these companies is usually a mess which not only destroys shareholder value but also the companies’ environmental performance.

For example: Investments in new buildings typically have a payback hurdle rate (already a classic mistake) of 6-10 years. However, capital spending on improving facility operations typically requires a payback of 12-36 months. Given that 90-98% of the store base is already built – that really makes initiatives for new construction pale in significance.

There are many reasons for this disfunction, mostly organizational, but it is a massive source of economic waste, destruction of shareholder value, and environmental harm. It’s not limited to the retail industry, but it’s often most evident there since their building footprint is so large.

My go-to snack during these dog days of summer has been fruit snacks from Matt’s Munchies. These scrumptious little treats are certified vegan and come in a variety of yummy flavors like Choco-Nana and Apple Pie, all at around 70 calories a package. Can’t beat that!

Check out some of the retailers participating in EPA’s Battle of the Buildings. Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ENERGY STAR program marked the midpoint of its 2011 National Building Competition: Battle of the Buildings. In the first six months of the competition alone, the competitors together have saved more than $3.7 million on utility bills and prevented 18,500 metric tons of CO2 emissions – that’s equal to the electricity used by 2,300 homes annually.

Teams from 245 buildings around the country are going head-to-head in this year’s ENERGY STAR National Building Competition to see who can reduce their energy use the most. The building with the largest percentage reduction in energy use, adjusted for weather and the size of the building, will be recognized as the winner in November.

Today EPA announced the Top Contenders for each of twelve building categories, including Boston’s Colonnade Hotel, the First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis, Office Depot in Plano, Texas, and a parking garage at the University of Central Florida.

There’s a lot we can all do in our own workplaces, as well. Actor John Corbett, the 2011 ENERGY STAR National Building Competition spokesperson, offers some tips in a new video posted today on the ENERGY STAR site

ENERGY STAR was started by EPA in 1992 as a market-based partnership to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through energy efficiency. Today, the ENERGY STAR label can be found on commercial and industrial buildings as well as new homes and more than 60 different kinds of products that meet strict energy-efficiency specifications set by EPA. Last year alone, Americans, with the help of ENERGY STAR, saved about $18 billion on their energy bills while preventing greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the annual emissions of 33 million vehicles.

For a list of National Building Competition Top Contenders and complete midpoint results for all competitors:

[…] CleanTechies lists the top ten U.S. retail chains with cleantech initiatives.  The list includes Whole Foods, Walmart, Safeway, Best Buy, Home Depot, Target, Walgreens, Costco, CVS Caremark, and the Army Air Force Exchange. […]

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