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Manager of Sustainability Adam Hammes keeps Kum & Go on an eco-friendly path in big and small ways

A convenience store isn’t the first business that comes to mind when discussing green initiatives and eco-friendliness, but as the first c-store chain to join the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Volume Program, it’s safe to say that Kum & Go is working to change that perception.

This companywide initiative is coordinated by Manager of Sustainability Adam Hammes, who puts hands-on effort into all aspects of the company’s sustainability program.

“Some days, I’m out visiting the stores and talking to associates. Tomorrow, I get to do a dumpster audit of cardboard with a vendor of ours, and the next day, I will be working on energy efficiency,” Hammes said. “It’s fun to bounce around and learn all aspects of this industry.”

Hammes came to Kum & Go with a history of environmental education and leadership training. He also runs his own grassroots non-profit organization that helps people get plugged into the environmental community. That experience comes in handy for implementing consistent sustainability features across the large chain.

“I have frequent communication with our construction partners about our LEED-certified stores,” he said. “To ensure that we receive LEED certification for the stores, I oversee the paperwork and documentation process. Once the certification comes in, then we begin the education piece.”

He also makes sure that LEED-certified stores receive the program plaques they’ve earned, which is about more than just bragging rights. Associates also receive a manual to educate them on what differentiates their store from others and why it’s special.

If things go as planned, all future Kum & Go locations will be special. LEED, which provides third-party verification of green buildings, demands that companies satisfy certain prerequisites by earning points in various categories, from energy efficiency to the use of recycled materials. Qualifying for the LEED Volume Program is even more rigorous, involving inspection of design and construction documents, quality control and an educational plan.

Now that Kum & Go’s 5K store model has been accepted into the LEED Volume Program, the company can use it as a “cookie-cutter” prototype, ensuring that all new builds will receive LEED certification, with the majority achieving Silver status.

“Through the design of the store and the equipment we use, we’re 30 percent more efficient than a typical building our size,” Hammes said. “We have low-flow fixtures. We’re one of the few, if not the only company that earns every point possible in indoor air quality.” Kum & Go also strives to use local building materials sourced from within 500 miles of each new store.

Participation in the LEED Volume Program will make it easier for Kum & Go to stay green going forward, but getting to this point wasn’t easy. The wide range of products sold, traffic considerations at the gas pumps and other factors made it a challenge to maximize sustainability while minimizing disruption to store operations.

“We have several interdepartmental discussions to ensure that we don’t choose a project that benefits one area and find out that it has an adverse effect somewhere else,” Hammes said. The c-store industry has “a lot of moving parts. It’s fun, but it slows things down. You really have to do due diligence before you make a big change.”

LEED isn’t the only standard Kum & Go uses to judge efficiency. The company is also working with Energy Star to create a convenience store category, but it’s a long, as-yet unfinished process, according to Hammes.

To help promote awareness of its initiatives, the sustainability manager travels to various universities and conferences to speak about Kum & Go’s program. The company is also in the process of building a new website that will feature more information on its sustainability efforts.

“It’s good to [help people] see that business and sustainability really can work together,” Hammes said. “In the past, people thought they were completely at odds. It’s nice to change that mindset.”

He also focuses on smaller, less-permanent aspects of sustainability beyond redesigned store elements. For instance, after studying the length of time the average customer spends at a location, Kum & Go launched a recycling program at the pump. Bottle-shaped bins beneath the fuel canopy make it obvious and easy for drivers to recycle their used cans and bottles instead of dumping them in the trash. So far, the bins are in place at 42 stores and counting.

Some environmental activists might criticize the combination of sustainability and the fuel retailing industry, but Hammes pointed out that it’s better to serve as a good example than to ignore an important issue. “We understand that we’re a convenience store and that we sell petroleum. Our goal is to be the best petroleum retailer that we can. We want to be the best convenience store in the business,” he said. “If you want to make a difference, you try to be the best and have others follow you.”

Not having much experience in retail, many parts of working in the c-store industry surprised Hammes when he joined Kum & Go. “A lot of it was new for me, but that was good because I came in with theories and passion for environmentalism, but you can’t apply that unless you know the business that you’re in,” he said, adding that he had to really focus on what makes convenience stores successful and how that fits with sustainability.

That education continues even as he works to educate others.

If he ran his own c-store, Hammes admits, “I think that it would be very environmentally friendly, but do terribly in sales. We have amazing general managers for that.”

“If you want to make a difference, you try to be the best and have others follow you.”

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