Greenhouse Gas Villain: Your Supermarket Freezer
BOSTON ( MainStreet) A report released last week by the Environmental Investigation Agency found that a dozen of the largest U.S. supermarkets are doing a dismal job of reining in their hydrofluorocarbon emissions.
The reason this matters? HFC is a potent greenhouse gas, with a much higher global warming potential than carbon dioxide, sometimes by as much as 4,000 times.
The report looked at the HFC emissions of a dozen retailers, including Target , Wal-Mart , Costco , Safeway , Whole Foods and Delhaize , which owns Food Lion and Bottom Dollar Food. Of all of the retailers EIA analyzed, Delhaize America performed the best and Costco the worst. Yet none of the stores passed the EIA's standards despite all being members of the Consumer Goods Forum, an international network of the world's largest retailers that committed to phasing out HFCs back in 2010.
According to the EIA, the widespread use of HFC in the retail industry has led to it becoming one of the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gases. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the average U.S. supermarket emits as much HFCs per year as 365 cars.
And it's only getting worse.
In fact, emission of HFCs, which are used in refrigerators and air conditioning units, has been growing by 10% to 15% annually. If efforts aren't undertaken to restrict them, the emissions are expected to make up 9% of all greenhouse gases by 2050.
"The results from the survey are not just disappointing but shocking, given that climate-friendly alternative technologies are available in the marketplace," Allan Thornton, president of the Environmental Investigation Agency, told McClatchy.
In a telephone interview, Thornton said CO2 and ammonia-based refrigerants would be much more sustainable and climate-friendly options and could easily be used in new and existing operations, as they are already in widespread use at stores throughout Canada, Japan and the European Union.
Wal-Mart, as the most profitable company, should take the lead in tackling the problem of HFC emissions head on, he says. It has 125 stores and two Sam's Club locations using "hybrid technology" of HFC and non-HFC refrigerants.
"At Wal-Mart, we're committed to reducing our carbon footprint, and we're working with our suppliers to do the same," Christopher Schraeder, senior manager of sustainability communications at Wal-Mart, said in an email.
Meanwhile, Whole Foods recently installed a secondary system in one of their Boulder, Colo., stores that reduced refrigerant charges by 76%; this makes it their 34th store to use this system. It also has five locations that use all-natural refrigerant systems and plans to open a completely HFC-free store in Brooklyn by the end of the year.
"When it comes to HFCs and other refrigerants, Whole Foods Market implemented a companywide refrigerant management program several years ago and utilizes refrigerant leak detection systems in many locations," said Mike Ellinger, the chain's global maintenance and refrigeration coordinator. "As for the forthcoming Brooklyn store, we are looking at all possible ways to reduce our footprint, promote environmental stewardship and create one of the most unique and environmentally friendly grocery stores ever opened."