Walmart Canada Improves Sustainability

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Walmart Canada will open its first sustainable refrigerated distribution centre in Balzac, Alberta, later this year. Expected to be one of the most energy-efficient distribution facilities of its kind in North America, the cutting-edge centre will be an estimated 60 per cent more energy-efficient than Walmart’s traditional refrigerated distribution centers. The centre will include a pilot of fuel cell technology and many other sustainable features.

The company expects to open the sustainable distribution centre in the fall of 2010 and is investing $115 million in its construction. The centre will create 1,400 jobs, including trade and construction jobs.

“We’ve set the ambitious goal of building the most sustainable distribution centre possible, while at the same time delivering a compelling return on investment,” said Andy Ellis, Senior Vice-President of Supply Chain for Walmart Canada. “The centre will be a living lab that demonstrates sustainable operations, products and technologies, while showing that environmental sustainability can go hand-in-hand with business sustainability.”

Some of the distribution centre’s sustainability features include:

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technology – In keeping with its long-term environmental goal, to be supplied 100 per cent by renewable energy, Walmart Canada will test the use of hydrogen fuel cells for the first time. Hydrogen fuel cells produce only heat and water as by-products and will replace traditional lead acid batteries in the centre’s entire material-handling fleet. Fuel cells will increase productivity and reduce operational costs because they last longer, do not need to be changed and can be refueled in three minutes. Hydrogen will come from Quebec, where the element is produced using 98 per cent renewable energy sources, particularly hydroelectricity. Powering the material-handling fleet with fuel cells will reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by an estimated 530 tons.

Solid-State Lighting – In a first for a refrigerated distribution centre, the entire facility will be lit exclusively by low-energy solid-state LED lighting. LED lights operate at low temperatures, have long life spans and strike instantly, providing important operational and environmental benefits in a refrigerated building. Using LED lights is expected to half the energy bill for lighting and save an estimated 1,400,000 kilowatt hours annually or the equivalent of powering 121 average size Canadian households with power for a year.

Solar and Wind Energy – Walmart Canada plans to test solar and wind energy at the Balzac facility. Sixteen solar thermal panels, mounted on the side of the centre, will supply clean, renewable energy to heat hot water for the facility. A 225-kilowatt wind turbine on-site will produce enough energy to supply 55 average size Canadian homes with energy.

Energy-Efficiency – Operating a large refrigerated building requires a large amount of energy. Walmart Canada has carefully evaluated its purchasing decisions, improved building design, and made technology choices to make the facility more energy-efficient. The company undertook a state-of-the-art infrared scan of an existing refrigerated distribution centre in Ontario, identifying areas that could be made more energy-efficient in the new centre. Key features of the Balzac facility include a leading-edge refrigeration system requiring significantly less power, high-efficiency doorways between temperature zones, upgraded seals throughout the building, and a white roof membrane that deflects an estimated 85 per cent of sunlight to reduce heat gain and demand on the electrical grid.

Sustainable Construction – Environmental sustainability is an important part of the construction phase, now underway. Through innovative waste diversion strategies, Walmart Canada expects to divert as much as 50 per cent of its construction waste from landfill. The entire construction phase will also be powered by renewable energy through Bullfrog Power, a Canadian provider of low-impact renewable electricity.

“The Balzac distribution centre is not only about reducing our own environmental footprint and making strides to achieve our long-term sustainability goals, it’s about leading change across an industry and the business world at-large,” added Ellis. “Our hope is that in the future, facilities like this will no longer be demonstration facilities but the norm for the industry.”

In a related announcement, Walmart Canada revealed that it will conduct two significant wind and solar power projects. The company plans to install a rooftop solar system as well as a wind turbine at two separate Walmart Canada locations in Ontario. Construction of the two systems is expected to begin later this year, with a combined investment of approximately $2 million and specific locations to be announced this spring.

Under the proposed projects, Walmart Canada will finance and own the solar energy and wind turbine systems. Power generated will be returned to the electrical grid under Ontario’s feed-in tariff program for renewable energy. The company will use these pilot projects to assess the effectiveness and potential benefits of these systems to potentially power some of its stores in the future.

Wal-Mart Canada is already one of Canada’s largest purchasers of renewable energy through Bullfrog Power.

“We’re looking at our business through the lens of sustainability,” said Ken Farrell, Vice President of Store Development for Walmart Canada. “These wind and solar pilot projects will enable us to invest in the commercialization of renewable energy, in addition to our own purchasing of green power.”

Once complete, the rooftop solar power-generating system is expected to generate 450,000 kilowatt hours of energy per year, enough to supply 39 average size Canadian households. The solar system will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 80 tons per year.

Walmart Canada plans to install a 20-kilowatt wind turbine adjacent to one of its Ontario stores. The system is expected to generate as much as 50,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year, enough power four average size Canadian households. The wind turbine has been designed for low wind speed areas, where wind power has not been previously practical, and can operate in wind speeds as low as 10 kilometers per hour.

Construction dates are subject to receiving the appropriate permits and approvals in the respective municipalities chosen.

“By implementing energy-saving strategies and using innovative clean energy technologies, Walmart Canada is building stores now that are 30 per cent more efficient than previous ones,” added Farrell. “We’ve said we’re determined to build the greenest stores on the block and we’re taking further steps every day towards this goal.”

Walmart Canada is testing many energy-efficient operations and renewable energy technologies in its stores and distribution centers. The company is currently testing geothermal technology at its Burlington, Ontario environmental demonstration store.

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