Retail therapy

Published:  09 May, 2012

The MBS Focus panel looks at the issues facing retailers as they seek to reduce their carbon footprint amid soaring fuel bills and corporate responsibility agendas.

Talking shop: the panel debates the issues facing retailers.

It’s a rough, tough retail world just now. Mothercare is the latest retailer to announce savage store closures, following in the wake of names like Game that have recently gone to the wall. Certainly the current economic woes play a large part, but so does a realignment following changing buying practices brought about by internet shopping.

Soaring fuel bills don’t help and with the Carbon Reduction Commitment Energy Efficiency Scheme (CRC) focusing the mind there has never greater interest, among the major retailers at least, of how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across their estates. The building services industry is well placed to help them achieve their goals and the latest MBS Focus Roundtable looked at how the sector is working alongside retailers to help them save energy, reduce their fuel bills and meet their carbon reduction and social responsibility agendas.

Toby Marlow, engineering manager, feasibility at John Lewis Partnership set the scene for the discussion by looking at the issues it currently faces. It has ambitious plans to double the size of its John Lewis and Waitrose businesses, yet the chairman has set a tough target. “The Partnership aims to deliver a 15% absolute reduction in operational carbon dioxide emissions by 2020/21 from a 2010/11 baseline, and that includes our new build programme,” explains Marlow. “It’s been a journey for us, and we certainly understand the carbon jargon a lot better than we did 18 months ago when we started out.”

John Lewis Partnership realised that a significant proportion of its carbon footprint (around 80 000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions out of a total of 540 000 tonnes at that time) was attributable to refrigerant gas leakage and began to look at alternatives to traditional HFC solutions. “We also found that 60% of our electrical load comes from refrigeration,” says Marlow, “so although we were tackling the problem from the aspect of leakage, we were going to get benefits from the energy consumption as well.”

Marlow: holistic view of energy needed.

The result is a new integral refrigerated display cabinet based on the natural hydrocarbon propane, which has a much lower global-warming potential than HFC gases. Each case has a low refrigerant charge, so if there is a leak it will be negligible.

“We’ve also looked to link our energy streams so that we use energy as efficiently as possible,” says Marlow. This is neatly demonstrated in the new refrigerated cabinets. Waste heat is taken away from the cabinets via a simple cold-water circuit which can then be used to pre-heat the fresh air supply to the store’s air-handling units.

Similarly, cold air is reclaimed from the cabinets instead of being allowed to spill over into the aisles where it can lead to customers feeling cold. A simple extract fan draws air away before it seeps over the front of the cabinets. Again, this is then fed back into the air-conditioning system in areas where there is a demand for cooling, such as back-of-house areas and offices. “We’ve taken a holistic view of our energy, so that waste from one system is fuel for another,” says Marlow.

The aim is for all stores, both new and existing, to be free of HFC refrigerant gases by 2020, achieving a 13-14% carbon reduction over the 2010 baseline. The new integrated cabinets are achieving a 70% reduction in gas consumption, a 5-10% reduction in electricity consumption and are costing the Partnership no more money than previous solutions.

Such initiatives have seen Waitrose awarded a BREEAM Outstanding rating for the fit-out of its new store at Westfield’s Stratford City retail centre – the first retailer to manage to achieve the accolade. The Westfield Stratford outlet is the first Waitrose store to do away with conventional fossil fuels. It is run entirely on renewable energy generated from a power plant that serves the whole retail centre.

The team has gone one step further with the opening at the end of March of its own biomass-powered energy centre at a Waitrose store in East Cowes, Isle of Wight. Here, Waitrose has partnered with MITIE Asset Management to develop renewable energy plant that uses local woodchip to power, heat and cool the store. “Fuel availability is key to our ability to trade, and we’ve started to look at securing our own supply and opted for woodchip from managed woodlands.” The plan is to use the excess heat to supply a district heating circuit serving a new housing development and health centre.

MITIE is delivering a second energy centre, using the same technology, at Waitrose’s Bracknell store that is due to become operational at the end of May. Both the East Cowes and Bracknell outlets are on track to achieve the BREEAM Outstanding rating for retail stores in use. To meet its 2020 target, Marlow estimates that the equivalent of 150 energy centres will have to be built across the estate.

Lighting accounts for around 20% of the electrical load in a typical store, so any energy improvements in this area will have a big impact. Waitrose has teamed up with Philips Lighting and Edge Lighting to develop a range of LED luminaires that are currently being trialled in one aisle at its Bracknell store. “We’ve seen energy consumption reduce from 16 W/m2 to less than 9 W/m2, giving a two-year payback at present, but capital costs are dropping and traditional fluorescents will go up in price.”

Crompton: will Green Deal live up to the hype?

So what issues does the experience of John Lewis raise? While the Partnership has ensured that it has the necessary processes and procedures in place, can all clients cope when new M&E systems are introduced? “We worked with a major supermarket chain on energy reporting work on a new flagship green store,” says Alison Crompton, regional director, sustainability and building engineering at AECOM. “They had some complex new kit and the issue was that if you have, say, 20 stores to maintain, and one novel store, it can be asking a lot of the engineering team to be on top of it.”

New build and major refurbishment is only part of the picture. Waitrose is also looking a series of small energy improvements that, taken together, will have a considerable impact. “We’ve been reconfiguring the BEMS (Building Energy Management Systems) on our older buildings and made energy savings of 7-8%,” says Marlow.

Ian Ellis, marketing manager for Siemens Building Technologies is no stranger to BEMS. He argues that controls companies are not always involved at the outset, when they can most influence performance. “We often get called in late on to a project where there is natural ventilation, solar, a biomass boiler and so on. If we are brought in early on in the project then we can bring all those various elements together to achieve the maximum benefit.”

Picton: little information about building usage.

Eddie Picton of consultant ZBP thinks that the way the construction industry works does not necessarily help. “As designers, we can bring certain suppliers to the table early on, but often the contractor will opt for a cheaper solution. And not all clients are like John Lewis. It’s almost as if it’s: ‘Here’s your brief, off you go and come back in two years and give me the keys.’ And all too often we don’t get enough information about the building usage: how often are the store’s doors open, how about the footfall, how often are the fridge doors open?”

Alison Crompton questioned the seemingly-intransigent open-door policy of retailers, allowing heat to escape instead of being recovered or, in the case of open malls, heat to enter a store and force refrigerated displays to work harder. “We need also to influence a shift in habits as well as technology.”

Peter Dyment, air quality and energy consultant at Camfil raises another issue here of outside air pollution. “The open-door policy is certainly not a good idea in London, because of the ingress of traffic particulates into buildings. I carried out a study on air quality where the particulate count close to stores in central London was highly variable and as much as four times over the guidelines of the World Health Organisation.”

So how is the CRC affecting retailers? “We’ve noticed that the position in the league table may not be vital for local authorities and the public sector, but it is a driver for retailers,” says Crompton. “They will certainly have an eye on the competition.”

“The reputational drivers are there,” says Toby Marlow. “We are engaged with DECC about the revisions to the CRC scheme and its carrot and stick approaches. My view is that you can do a lot of damage with a big carrot. You could replace the CRC with mandatory Display Energy Certificates and link DECs to business rates, but they have to be meaningful to the space. For example, you can’t compare a 25 000 sq ft Waitrose store, where 60% of that is freezer space, with a Tesco store where much more of the floor area is given over to general retail space.”

Dyment: industry works in silos.

“There is an iSERVE European Commission supported project to provide a database of buildings of different types,” says Peter Dyment. “That way, you can benchmark building profiles for energy use of air-conditioning systems to compare and see where the weak points in your building are.” Heating, ventilating and air-conditioning systems can typically use 50% of the energy in large commercial buildings.

Alison Crompton believes that the big challenge when looking to green the retail estate is the layer below the big and medium-sized players. “We did a lot of work with the Carbon Trust and the big retailers, but what about the small chain of newsagents? They haven’t got any monitoring in place, they might be using all-electric heating, there’s often just one person in charge of the whole operation, and have they got the time to access all the information when they are trying to run a business?”

Ian Ellis believes that the Green Deal scheme will help to unlock funds for energy improvements at the smaller end of the market. “If you want to do an energy upgrade, but you can’t fund it, the Green Deal should provide a way to find the capital, providing it is available for the non-residential sector.”

Alison Crompton is concerned that the Green Deal may fail to live up to the hype. “You can usually knock 25% off any predicted energy savings because of unintended consequences. For example, you may reduce energy use in one area, but that causes it to rise in another because you haven’t looked at it in the whole. This could lead to the Green Deal getting a bad reputation.”

“There is a lack of energy-saving case studies for small projects,” says Peter Dyment. “If people could get on the internet and have a look at some, then maybe they would be encouraged themselves to take action if it makes good financial sense.”

Much like the way the Green Deal is to be funded, Siemens Building Technologies offers finance schemes where it funds the project costs upfront. “It’s still fairly new to us, but we have started to work with Siemens Financial Services and do joint visits to customers. We would do a cost analysis, ascertain what energy savings could be made and then come up with a payment plan.”

Siemens is instrumental in backing the adoption of controls standard BS EN 15232. This grades a controls strategy from D to A. “It will clearly demonstrate the sort of savings you can expect to make if you make a particular investment,” explains Ellis. “Too often a controls system only gets replaced by the same sort of thing, instead of analysing it to see if it can be done better.”

“In terms of energy efficiency and improving existing plant, I feel we are sadly deficient and there has been very little action,” says Peter Dyment. “My own company has achieved a 40% reduction in costs due to energy-related activities over two years through implementing the EN 16001 and ISO 50001 energy-management standards and all the work we do on optimising systems backs up those sort of figures. Yet, the industry is working in silos and we don’t come together to get things done.”

Ellis: early action required

Ian Ellis agrees.” You’ll only get long-term thinking when a client is prepared to take hold of the project. For example, it’s amazing how many jobs are sold where the lights still have their own control system; there’s a separate BEMS, and the two never meet.”

Eddie Picton feels that so much more could be achieved if building-services engineers were involved at the outset. “We can influence the shape, form, and orientation on a new build, for example. And we can be more influential with the business model – do you refurbish, or build new? Similarly, we’d like to be more involved post completion, not only to make sure that the building is being run as designed, but also to provide this feedback into the design process for future projects.”



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