Kum & Go: A Case Study in C-store Sustainability


WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — Convenience store strategies for increased sustainability, defined by an emphasis on environmental and social responsibility, have steadily become a corporate priority. From attracting and engaging customers and employees who care about a company's environmental footprint to improving the bottom line, sustainability initiatives present important opportunities for c-store operators.         

The following case study of Kum & Go LC, a West Des Moines-based operator of more than 430 c-stores in 11 states, spotlights the steps the company has taken to become a sustainability leader, and provides insights for other c-store companies seeking to become more sustainable enterprises.

It is no secret that “sustainability” has become a buzz word with today’s more environmentally conscious consumers. Fifty-five percent of global respondents in Nielsen’s 2014 corporate social responsibility survey said they are willing to pay extra for products and services from companies that are committed to positive social and environmental impact — an increase from 50 percent in 2012 and 45 percent in 2011.

For several years, Kum & Go has recognized the important role sustainability plays, and consequently embraces sustainable business practices companywide.

“Sustainability is about more than the environmental component,” stressed Sara Kurovski, sustainability manager for Kum & Go, who attributed the company’s sustainability-laced culture to President and CEO Kyle Krause’s passion for environmental stewardship, community involvement and continuous improvement. “It’s about the people, the profits and the environment. When Kum & Go goes into a community, we don’t want to build a store and walk away. We want to be a part of the community.”

From the Building to the Bottom Line

LEED, or Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, is a green building certification program that recognizes best-in-class building strategies and practices. LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council is the recognized standard for measuring building sustainability.

Since 2011, all new Kum & Go stores have been designed, constructed and submitted for LEED certification. The company now operates 102 LEED-certified stores, more than any other c-store chain in the world, and ranks fifth in certification among all retailers.

During construction, these stores use 20 percent recycled materials such as steel and concrete, and the certified stores use 20 percent less water and 30 percent less energy than typical stores of their size, according to Kum & Go.

In addition, Kum & Go has single-stream recycling at 146 stores and at-the-pump recycling for customers at 112 stores; uses efficient heating, cooling and refrigeration; features LED lighting in the reach-in cooler doors of 244 stores and LED lighting in the canopies and parking lots of 42 stores; and features low-flow water fixtures and irrigation controls at its stores, among other practices. Ninety-five percent of the lumber for new stores is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

The c-store chain also has been an industry pioneer where renewable fuels are concerned. It introduced E85 (a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline) in its stores in 1997, and now offers the fuel at 170 stores in 11 states, making it the largest E85 retailer in the country. Kum & Go offers E15 (a renewable fuel that contains 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline) at seven stores in the Midwest, and has plans to carry E15 at more than 65 locations by the end of 2016.

In its efforts to be a good neighbor, Kum & Go donates 10 percent of its profits to charities and local communities, too.

“It is our company’s goal to be as sustainable as possible, and we try to implement that through the company in a way that is about continuous improvement,” said Kurovski. “It’s part of every department. When print materials are used in marketing, can we use materials that have less of an impact on the environment? Do we have suppliers that can be partners in sustainability? Are our contractors using the right materials and building in the most sustainable way possible? It’s about asking people to take ownership and to work toward continuous improvement in order to have a more positive impact.”

While making a positive impact is the company’s goal, the importance of profit isn’t lost on the c-store chain.

“HVAC and refrigeration, for example, take a huge economic toll on any store so we are working and focusing a lot on energy,” said Kurovski. “We just did a study to evaluate something as simple as our kitchen equipment and found that if we looked at energy savings alone, switching out our equipment would save us a tremendous amount of money. The profit component and the environmental component are tied together as one.”

Innovating Into the Future

Kum & Go recently unveiled plans for a new 6,000-square-foot prototype store in Johnston, Iowa, that will serve as the model for all new stores. Sustainability will be a key component of its design, construction and operation.

“From a sustainability impact, you’ll see things like extremely energy-efficient HVAC, 100-percent LED lighting, recycling available to customers, recycled materials used on the property, low-flow toilets and faucets. It will be LEED-certified like our previous ones have been in the past five years,” Kurovski said.

Kum & Go also will implement new energy-saving technologies, such as Pleotint’s Suntuitive glass featuring a lightly tinted UV/sunlight-responsive, thermochromic interlayer that warms up and darkens in direct sunlight, but clears in indirect sunlight to allow light to pass into a building.

“Not only does it darken, but it absorbs the heat when the sun hits it. You are creating a more comfortable environment in your store, and you are also reducing your HVAC costs. We’re really excited to see how that progresses,” Kurovski said.

Sustainability Resources

Looking for information on how to make your c-store more sustainable? The following sources offer a wealth of information to get you started on the road to sustainability:

The U.S. Green Building Council


Energy Star


Food Marketing Institute


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