Out of Sight, Not Out of Mind
Looking back at the convenience store industry several years ago, ?green? was the buzzword. The belief was that operating practices based on green and sustainable principles would not only be good for the world we live in, but they?d be good for business, too, marking a perfect match between good intentions and practicality.
Today, green makes the headlines less frequently, but that doesn?t mean it has gone out of sight, out of mind. C-store operators are still putting environmentally friendly practices in place, but they are balancing these initiatives with the cost of investment.
?The almighty dollar is always the first thing,? said Mike Lawshe, president and CEO of Paragon Solutions Inc., a Fort Worth, Texas-based retail design firm.
Paragon Solutions works on roughly 250 projects each year and factors in green options as a standard part of the process. Rather than fading away like a no-longer-fashionable trend, Lawshe said sustainability has become standard in the industry.
?It?s expected that we incorporate as much [sustainability] into the design as we can,? he said, noting this can include anything from LED lighting to energy management systems and beyond. ?It?s a conscious discussion on an ongoing basis.?
Ten years ago, this discussion was less of an analysis on which features made the most sense for a c-store and more like addressing a classroom. ?We had to educate them,? he said. ?It?s not that way anymore.?
This is partially due to changes in technology. Green features that were once expensive to implement, with a five- to seven-year wait before they paid for themselves in cost-saving measures, are now much cheaper to implement. Some allow retailers to cut back on energy costs so quickly that their price tag is nearly equivalent to the savings.
Time is another factor. As c-store veterans grow more knowledgeable about and comfortable with sustainable technology, younger people who grew up understanding it are joining the industry ? and becoming customers, too.
TAKING THE LEED
?[Green is] not going away because it?s not a fad, it?s a value,? said Sara Kurovski, manager of sustainability for Kum & Go LC. The West Des Moines, Iowa-based convenience store chain makes a point of going green on multiple levels, from the use of water-saving fixtures, to building stores with reflective concrete and sustainable materials, to offering renewable fuels.
At Kum & Go, much of the support for sustainability comes from CEO Kyle Krause, who ?believes in it wholeheartedly,? Kurovski said. ?It?s just part of who he is.?
Before Krause created a dedicated role to oversee the company?s sustainability efforts, a ?green task force? of sorts existed to work on lower-level efforts such as double-sided printing. Today, Kum & Go is the only c-store chain to participate in the U.S. Green Building Council?s Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) Volume Program, and it is on track to open its 100th LEED-certified store in January.
LEED guidelines definitely help c-stores get greener, but the rigorous program isn?t for everyone. Certain requirements may be financially out of reach, while others may earn a store points but serve no functional purpose, such as installing a bike rack at a store located off an interstate.
Lawshe advises retailers to set their sustainability goals independently and then either work toward LEED certification if it matches these goals or just use it as a guideline without formalizing anything. ?You can use that as benchmarks to guide you in the process of ? being more green,? he said.
Although LEED may be the gold standard in terms of c-store sustainability, small-chain and single-store retailers shouldn?t be intimidated from approaching sustainability in smaller ways.
?The most common on the energy-saving side are LED technologies and energy management systems. To me, those two are automatic,? Lawshe said. ?It could be as simple as doing analysis on your store and saying, ?OK, the ice maker doesn?t need to be running 24/7; energy is cheaper after 7 [p.m.]??
A typical starting point is to focus on managing what is already inside a c-store rather than going out and buying new equipment ? even if it is more efficient. Lawshe estimates it is possible to reduce energy costs by 20 percent at a single store.
One method is to look at existing equipment and habits from a different perspective. For example, store operators should avoid turning on multiple lights or pieces of equipment at once, which can cause energy surges. Low-tech automatic timers and sensors serve as a relatively simple investment for retailers that want to keep a store?s energy usage even without doing everything manually.
Larger chains and those that are ready to make a bigger investment can investigate the more robust energy management systems, which allow one person to remotely control processes at multiple stores from a single site. This option will likely grow more appealing as the c-store market continues on its current path of development.
?Some of our [industry?s] stores are getting much bigger,? Lawshe said. ?Bigger stores come with bigger energy costs.?
At the same time, the human element can make nearly as much of a difference as new technology. ?The most important thing to consider is who is running and operating your store,? said Kurovski. ?You can build an environmentally friendly building, but if you don?t have the right people responding to it and working within it, you?re not going to be as effective as you can be.?
This is relevant at all levels: Everyone from management to entry-level associates need to be aware of green practices and do their part to support them, she explained. This encompasses everything from separating recyclable products from the garbage to fixing a toilet that is running too long and wasting water.
?It?s all about living and working within a green building ? you don?t just get to build it and let it sit there,? said Kurovski.
In addition, she noted that it is easy for organizations to get overwhelmed by tackling too much at once, but progress can be made by focusing on just one thing and moving forward from there. Take recycling cardboard, for example. ?That?s easy to do,? she said. ?When you multiply [a sustainable habit] by hundreds and hundreds of people, that?s a huge impact.?
Not only does it make a difference, but it also gets noticed by customers. Many consumers include sustainable practices in their own values and are likely to appreciate such efforts. Kum & Go has received positive feedback for its adoption of recycling bins at its fuel pumps.
For retailers that are truly committed to sustainable features, they should go out of their way to keep up with the latest options available, which change all the time.
?A good goal for us is to become energy-neutral where we are off the grid, where we produce as much energy as we consume,? Lawshe said. ?That?s very aggressive, but I think it?s doable.?
Truck stops and other large areas have the best prospects for making use of solar and wind power. While the prospect of being energy producers and not just energy consumers is a long-term goal Lawshe doesn?t see it as beyond the convenience store industry.
?Wouldn?t that make the world a wonderful place? I think so,? he said.