Wholesalers & Distributors

UNFI goes bigger with solar on distribution center rooftop

Grocery wholesaler also plans to upgrade 33 distribution centers with LED energy-efficient lighting.
UNFI Solar Array-Howell NJ distribution center
The solar array atop UNFI's Howell, New Jersey, distribution center is expected to generate the same amount of energy needed, an estimated 3.8 million-kilowatt hours of electricity per year, to operate the facility. / Photo courtesy of UNFI

United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI) has installed its eighth—and largest—solar rooftop on its Howell, New Jersey, distribution center.

The 3.2-megawatt solar array on the Howell facility is three times larger than any of UNFI's previous solar installations and contains 7,171 solar panels, the Providence, R.I.-based grocery distributor reported.  

In addition to its solar sustainability efforts, UNFI plans to upgrade 33 distribution centers with LED energy-efficient lighting. The move to energy-efficient lighting is expected to save UNFI $15 million over the course of a decade.  

According to UNFI, the solar array is expected to generate the same amount of energy needed—an estimated 3.8 million-kilowatt hours of electricity per year—to operate the Howell distribution center. The improved efficiency will divert roughly 2,700 metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere annually, the company said. That's equivalent to the annual electricity use of 524 U.S. homes, based on the Environmental Protection Agency Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator. 

“Energy efficiency is an important focus area for our 'Better for All Environmental, Social, and Governance' (ESG) strategy, and we are excited to see the Howell solar array come online,”  UNFI CEO Sandy Douglas said in a statement. “This newest solar array, coupled with our current LED lighting projects at a majority of our distribution centers, are expected to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions year over year and represent a milestone on our path to building a food system that is better for our people, communities and the planet. These efforts are also expected to reduce our operational costs and help us become more efficient, and that’s a positive for our business.” 

UNFI worked with solar power provider PowerFlex to complete the installation of the Howell solar array. “We are proud to partner with UNFI to make their operations more sustainable through renewable energy,” stated Raphael Declercq, CEO of PowerFlex. “By generating clean, solar energy on site, UNFI demonstrates their strong commitment to building a healthier community and environment for all.” 

The LED energy-efficient lighting installation includes all of UNFI's distribution centers built before 2002. The project is expected to be finished by the end of the fiscal year. Once the conversion is completed, all of UNFI’s 56 distribution centers will have LED lighting, for a savings of 2 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually. 

“The completion of our Howell solar array and investments in LED lighting at our distribution centers has already helped reduced our indirect Scope 2 emissions and will continue to help us as we work to reduce energy intensity in our distribution centers by 30% by 2030,” according to Alisha Real, vice president of ESG and social impact at UNFI.



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