Today, there are many ways for convenience stores to reduce their utility bills.
By Pat Pape, Contributing Editor
Scott Zaremba likes to experiment with new ideas. The owner of three Zarco USA convenience stores in Lawrence, Kan., Zaremba grew in the fuel and convenience store industry and is constantly searching for ways to boost his business, cut costs, sell more and improve the performance of everyday operations.
“I’m always thinking there is another, better way to do things,” Zaremba said. That includes slashing utility expenses in his stores.
One of his most successful utility-reduction efforts has been the 2008 installation of a living roof atop his drive-through coffee kiosk, which is located next door to one of his c-stores. Originally, the kiosk sported a flat roof. “I put a pitch on it and made it into a living [green] roof and cut the electricity bill by half,” said Zaremba. “It’s very unique.”
WIND, SUN AND WATER
The kiosk, leased to a Scooter’s Coffee franchise, includes five-inches of soil, 17 varieties of sedum and a water-storing ground cover that is tough enough to thrive on a roof. No green thumb is necessary to maintain its good looks.
“You don’t water it. You don’t fertilize it. You don’t cut it. You don’t do anything,” he said. “If one variety of sedum goes away, another one comes in. Then, that one goes away and the other comes back. If I had to do a bunch of work on it, it would not be valuable to me. The whole idea was to have it be low or no maintenance to justify the cost of putting it in.”
As for the payoff, the roof “keeps the building warm and cool because it has a great insulation factor,” Zaremba said.
Living roofs are not a common sight in the U.S., but they make a big impact on the structures that sport them. The 10.4-acres of sedum covering the Ford truck plant in Dearborn, Mich., is one of the largest green roofs in the world.
The flat roof of vegetation collects and filters storm water runoff and keeps the facility about 10 degrees warmer in winter and 10 degrees cooler in summer, resulting in a 5% reduction in heating and cooling expenses, according to the company.
Even when the sedum is soaked with water, the roof weighs less than 15 pounds per square foot. As an added bonus, the plants trap airborne dust and dirt, absorb carbon dioxide and provide a habitat for birds, butterflies and bugs.
Experts are still uncertain about the average life of a green roof, but many suspect it can last twice as long as a traditional roof. Today, the green roofs of New York’s Rockefeller Center have the same waterproofing membranes [the water-tight material laid on the roof] that were installed in the 1930s.
A green roof is not Zaremba’s only effort to reduce utility expenses. He tested the feasibility of wind power when he topped one of his fueling locations with a vertical, eight-foot-by-seven-foot wind turbine that “looks like a mixer,” he said. “It can generate 350,000 kilowatts per year.”
The turbine (shown on the opposite page, atop a Zarco station) was installed at Zaremba’s fueling location that offers drivers both biodiesel and ethanol. “The problem is that our electricity in the Midwest only costs about 11.5 cents a kilowatt,” he said. “And at that rate, payback on the wind turbine will be about 50 years. Now if you put up a $3.5 million wind tower that can do 10 megawatts, it would pay for itself.”
Zaremba hopes that just seeing the turbine will inspire some of his customers to consider adopting practices—large or small—that will reduce their personal ecological footprint.
At the GetGo convenience stores, owned and operated by the Giant Eagle supermarket chain, based in Pittsburgh, solar-roofing technology is a green addition at several outlets.
“The energy conserved in these locations contributes to the 750,000 kilowatt-hours Giant Eagle saves annually across all solar-equipped locations,” said Dan Donovan, Giant Eagle spokesperson.
GetGo locations with a WetGo car wash use a water reclamation system aimed at making car washing more environmentally friendly.
“A single car wash at WetGo uses approximately 50% fewer gallons of fresh water than typical car washes,” Donovan said.
Although utility bills are a small portion of a convenience store’s total operating costs, improving efficiency and cutting energy expenses can increase profits by as much as 10%, according to E Source, a Boulder, Colo., market research company serving the utility industry.
One of the easiest ways retailers can reduce electricity consumption and save money is using LED lighting in and outside a store. In 2011, 7-Eleven began converting its store lighting system from the traditional florescent to LED. After upgrading 4,500 locations, the company announced in December 2015 that it had saved over $7 million in energy costs since the conversion began.
Rutter’s Farm Stores recently opened two new Pennsylvania locations, one in the city of Leola and the other near Gettysburg. Both outlets have LED lighting that gives them a bright, updated look, according to Derek Gaskins, chief customer officer at Rutter’s.
“LED-based lighting even improves monument signs,” he said.
Several years ago, a lighting expert told Zaremba, “keep in mind you don’t see light. You see the reflection of what it’s shining on.”
“That changed my perspective,” said Zaremba. “LEDs are so directional now and cost effective. They cut our utility bill because they don’t put out so much heat and don’t use as much electricity. It’s one of the most exciting things we have in our industry.”
LED lights come in a variety of color temperatures that are measured on the Kelvin scale in numbers ranging from 2700K-6500K. The lower the K value, the warmer the light and the more yellow the tone. Higher K values give off a cooler light and have blue tones.
“And it’s much more directional so you aren’t just flooding the area with light,” said Zaremba, who estimates they use 25% less wattage now than with his old lights. “We’re directing the light toward products because it gives a much warmer feel even. LEDs are so much more efficient and the costs have come down so dramatically. Four years ago, they were so expensive.”
At RaceTrac,the Atlanta-based chain that operates 650 stores throughout the South, an energy and sustainability team is responsible for implementing energy, waste and water initiatives throughout the company.
“The team researches, analyzes and implements projects to reduce operating expenses and best manage RaceTrac’s energy impacts,” said Colin Block, senior analyst of energy and sustainability at RaceTrac.
“To date, we’ve installed LED lighting at all RaceTrac stores and added white roofs to our construction specifications,” Block said. “White roofs better reflect sunlight and the related heat, which enables stores to keep their interiors cooler with greater efficiency, ultimately cutting down on HVAC usage.”
The convenience store company also installed low-flow, automated water fixtures and is in the process of implementing a number of other large sustainability-related initiatives, including a full Energy Management System (EMS) rollout, “smart” irrigation that reduces outdoor water use by monitoring site conditions and more efficient HVAC and refrigeration units.
The team also is responsible for getting all employees onboard by educating them on energy, waste and water management.
“We meet with all regional operations and maintenance teams to review best practices and discuss how our initiatives will affect operations at the store level,” Block said. “We enlist the store teams to keep thermostats at pre-set levels, close all walk-in coolers and freezers, and ensure that all exterior doors are closed to better manage indoor temperatures. Equipment not currently in use must be shut off.”
The company’s policy requires store managers to report all water issues via a third-party maintenance platform, and all faucets must be turned off when not in use. This helps maximize the system’s potential.
“When it comes to waste, our store employees break down and recycle cardboard boxes to divert some of our waste away from the landfills,” he added.
“We have seen savings from the energy efficiency projects implemented over the past few years,” Block said. “We’ll continue to research and analyze business cases that help reduce operating costs while managing our energy, waste and water impacts. We’re focusing much of our work this year on data analytics to better understand our overall impact.”