Target Corp., Minneapolis, is said to be among the first companies in the supermarket industry to open new stores that use an innovative “rackless” refrigeration system, called a propane self-contained system. This system is expected to significantly decrease refrigeration energy use compared to traditional technology, and will keep grocery aisles warm by re-using the heat emitted by refrigeration systems as a natural by-product, thereby saving additional energy during cold months. 

Meanwhile, Whole Foods Market, Emeryville, Calif., says its newly opened Santa Clara, Calif., store features what is said to be the most environmentally-advanced grocery retail refrigeration system in the United States. The system 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.

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.”

Whole Foods Market’s other environmental initiatives in Santa Clara and across the United States 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 if/when possible, ensures finishes come from recycled materials.