The Whole Foods Market store in Santa Clara, California opened last week with what the company calls the most environmentally-advanced grocery retail refrigeration system in the U.S.
The installation comes at a time when California is looking to significantly reduce emissions of all greenhouse gases, including hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) used in refrigeration systems. These “super pollutants” are potent short-lived climate pollutants and represent the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions globally. The system used in the Santa Clara store eliminates all direct greenhouse gas emissions from refrigeration, thereby preventing the more than 7,000 metric tons of CO2 equivalent that a typical supermarket emits every year, which is more than the entire annual electricity use of over 1,000 homes.
“This is one of the most significant steps in decades in the quest for more sustainable refrigeration systems,” says Liz Whiteley, executive director of the North American Sustainable Refrigeration Council, an environmental non-profit organization based in California that strives to create a more sustainable future through natural refrigerants.
Whole Foods Market’s Hydrocarbon/CO2 Cascade System reduces the environmental impacts of refrigerants to near-zero, while greatly improving energy efficiency. It uses propane, a natural refrigerant, to condense CO2 – the most eco-friendly refrigerant available – with a climate impact that is thousands of times less than typical HFCs. The CO2 is then piped through refrigeration systems to keep products cool. With high heat carrying properties, the use of CO2 reduces both the amount of refrigerant needed and the energy required to run refrigeration systems. Simultaneously, a heat reclaim system captures the heat generated by the system, and uses it to preheat water for the store’s later use, while also supplementing space heating. This allows the store to greatly reduce the amount of natural gas burned to heat water.
“Ultimately, the system uses the least possible amount of the most climate-friendly refrigerants in a format that both reduces the energy it takes to operate it and re-uses the heat its operation generates,” says Tristam Coffin, sustainable facilities coordinator for Whole Foods Market Northern California. “There is precedent for this type of system in North America and Europe, but this is the first installation of the technology in the U.S. It’s a natural fit for Whole Foods Market to help design and launch it in California because we’ve invested in environmental advancements as an ongoing business practice.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently banned the use of some common refrigerants such as R-404A and R-507A for new installations and retrofits, due to their climate impact. Also, in July the parties to the Montreal Protocol met to negotiate a worldwide plan to eliminate the use of other harmful refrigerant gases over time. California has been at the forefront of efforts to reduce refrigeration emissions, with rules in place that are being adopted nationally, and proposed efforts to further reduce emissions from these sources, in line with Governor Jerry Brown’s directive for the state to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030, Whole Food officials note.
“Cutting emissions of potent short-lived climate pollutants is one of the most important and immediate steps we need to take to address climate change, while we continue our rapid transition to clean energy, clean fuels, and zero emission vehicles,” says Ryan McCarthy, science and technology policy advisor at the California Air Resources Board. “Whole Foods is showing the path forward for this industry, and that fighting climate change is good for business.”
Whole Foods Market’s other environmental initiatives in Santa Clara and across the U.S. include: recycling construction waste, using reclaimed building materials, and sourcing wood from Forest Stewardship Council-certified sources. The company uses LED fixtures throughout the store to reduce energy load. In addition to occupancy sensors and sophisticated daylighting controls, the lighting system allows the local electric utility to dim sales floor lighting by 50% or switch off accent lighting during peak demand. Whole Foods Market also uses “no VOC” paint for better air quality, avoids floor finishes and, to the extent possible, ensures finishes come from recycled materials and are Greenguard certified.