Peter Powell

In an industry now heavily regulated with concerns about “what the Environmental Protection Agency might do next,” there is at least one aspect that is hardly regulatory and actually finds the EPA as a partner.

It is called the GreenChill Advanced Refrigeration Partnership, and in the three years since it was launched it has caught on with refrigeration equipment suppliers, refrigerant manufacturers, and especially with supermarket chains. According to the EPA, GreenChill works to help food retailers:

• Transition to non-ozone-depleting refrigerants;

• Lower refrigerant charge sizes;

• Eliminate leaks; and

• Adopt green refrigeration technologies, strategies, and practices.

The GreenChill Partnership has three main programs: The Food Retailer Corporate Emissions Reduction Program, Store Certification Program for Advanced Refrigeration, and the Advanced Refrigeration Promotion Program.

A lot of this involves voluntary efforts on the part of the stores to upgrade equipment and servicing procedures, as well as reporting to the EPA as to how they are doing.

Like the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, GreenChill has Platinum, Gold, and Silver certification recognitions. For the supermarkets to earn such honors, they have to use refrigerants that do not damage the Earth’s protective ozone layer; reduce the size of its refrigerant charge by certain percentages from the industry average; reduce annual refrigerant emissions to 15 percent or less of total store capacity; and test refrigeration systems for adherence to GreenChill’s leak tightness guidelines.

WHY ALL THIS

It should be noted that an early trigger mechanism that eventually resulted in GreenChill came about in 2004 when the EPA charged the Dominick’s Finer Foods chain in the Chicago area with illegally venting CFCs. The legal tangle eventually reached the Department of Justice.

Under an agreement reached by the Justice Department and the EPA, Dominick’s was to:

“Take steps that will cut by over 35 tons of future releases of chlorofluorocarbon refrigerants. Within two years, Dominick’s will retrofit 23 of its supermarkets in and around Chicago with a system that uses non-ozone-depleting refrigerant and will retrofit or retire the refrigeration systems in six additional Chicago-area stores. The company also agreed that in any new stores built after the agreement takes effect, it will only install commercial refrigeration units that use an EPA-approved non-ozone-depleting refrigerant. The company will pay a civil penalty of $85,000 for alleged past leaks of ozone-depleting refrigerants.”

It all added up to quite an investment on the part of the chain. I remember that situation well because my wife and I were living in the Chicago area at the time and one of the six stores that were closed (which was how that “retirement” of equipment was accomplished) was one we shopped at often.

The supermarket industry’s trade association, The Food Marketing Institute (FMI), knew that the Dominick’s issue could only be a starting point of future fines. From day one of venting regulations, the FMI had been pushing its member stores to stay ahead of the curve and be proactive. In fact, the supermarket industry was the first to move away from CFCs and the first to embrace HFCs and CO2. Such proactivity was not widespread at first, but the Dominick’s situation put the whole sector on high alert and FMI approached the EPA about trying to work together more to defuse potential future problems. From that, GreenChill eventually emerged. GreenChill proved to be a positive approach and supermarkets are actually finding benefits in the alignment.

“By displaying the GreenChill logo, signifying their accomplishments, the retailers can attract more environmentally conscious shoppers,” the EPA explained. “GreenChill partners also have opportunities to share information about green refrigeration technology.”

Here’s what I think that all means. Shoppers who have no emotional involvement with anything environmental are going to shop in supermarkets that have what they need at what they consider a fair price. But those customers wanting to do “the right thing” environmentally may end up supporting a store that makes a big buzz about their environmental correctness. The net result for such stores should be more customers.

Publication date: 05/03/2010