• WisBusiness

Thursday, August 25, 2011

GreenBiz: Kwik Trip becoming leader in green convenience


By Gregg Hoffmann
If you stop to gas up and get something to eat at a Kwik Trip store, pause to look around for a moment.

The signs might be somewhat inconspicuous, but you very likely could be standing in one of the “green” stores that is making La Crosse-based Kwik Trip a national leader in sustainable energy convenience stores.

“Many of our guests (how Kwik Trip refers to customers) probably don’t even see the initiatives that have been taken, but we believe they and the community as a whole are benefiting from them,” said David Ring, community relations coordinator for the company.

Roughly half of the convenience stores in the country that have qualified for the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification of the U.S. Green Building Council are owned and operated by Kwik Trip.

The company has constructed 12 such stores and has 14 more in the planning stages. Changes to existing stores to make them more energy efficient also are on-going.

Kwik Trip spokespeople emphasize the greening of their stores is being done “because it is the right thing to do,” but also because it makes business sense.

“There’s certainly a balanced approach,” Ring said. “What makes sense for the environment, and is it cost effective?”

Leah Nicklaus Berlin, development coordinator for Kwik Trip, said most of the green initiatives have payback periods of five years or less. “Anything under five years is a no-brainer,” she said.

Initiatives are across the operations of the chain, following the vertically integrated structure of the company as a whole. Low-energy lighting, low-flow toilets and sinks and more efficient motors for coolers and other machinery in the stores cut energy use and save money.

Most of these efforts are planned to go into most, if not all, Kwik Trip stores, and there are more than 400 of those and counting. In Iowa, Kwik Trip operates as Kwik Star.

Kwik Trip has started to recapture water from its car washes and reuse it through a reverse osmosis process. That, along with the changes in sinks and toilets, projects to save 4.7 million gallons of water a year.

“That’s the equivalent of washing 87,000 cars or filling 316 backyard swimming pools,” Ring said.

LED (light-emitting diode) lighting has already shown savings. Canopy lights in new stores save about $3,946 per year. Changes to coolers and freezers are saving $375,291 per year across the stores.

Berlin said energy management systems, which can be monitored from the La Crosse headquarters, are being installed in many stores. “That allows a monitoring of energy efficiency throughout the company,” she said.

Other initiatives include skylights and additional windows for day lighting, heat recovery water heaters, refrigeration waste heat recovery, using more concrete than asphalt in lots to allow for less lighting and heat, and recycling efforts.

Berlin said making new stores energy efficient might add as much as 10 percent to building costs, but the payback more than makes up for that extra cost.

Discussions on greening of the chain started about three to five years ago, according to Berlin. “We felt it was the right approach for our customers and the community as a whole,” she said. “But, we also felt it has to make sense from a business standpoint. It has to be cost effective.”

Ring said some initiatives are in very early stages. For example, 14 stores in Wisconsin, eight in Minnesota and three in Iowa have electric car re-charging stations. The chain also is offering ethanol blends, biodiesel and natural gas at some of its stores and plans to increase those.

“As the market for those alternative sources develop, we plan on adapting,” Ring said.

Kwik Trip also prepares most of its own food for its stores. It maintains its own food safety department, headed by Dr. Jay Ellingson and including company experts and medical people from the Marshfield Clinic. A food inspector is headquartered in that department.

Under the Nature’s Touch brand, Kwik Trip offers milk in a bag/pitcher and orange juice in pouches. The result is a 95 percent reduction in compacted volume in landfills and a 75 percent reduction in package weight.

The company also is participating in the local food movement as much as possible. Sour cream, cottage cheese and French onion dip are bought from the Westby Creamery, southeast of La Crosse.

Eggs come from the Reedsburg Egg Company. Milk and cheese are supplied in large part by local and regional farmers, as are potatoes and onions. Carrots come from a supplier in Rochester, Minnesota.

“We see the local food movement very much as part of the overall sustainability initiatives we have undertaken,” Ring said.

Kwik Trip is exploring some possible tax incentives in Minnesota and elsewhere for green development, but to this point has taken the initiatives primarily on its own.

“We have worked with Focus on Energy and other programs, but for the most part have undertaken this on our own when it is economically viable,” Berlin said. “Innovation is a big part of our business approach. We want to be out in front of new technology in these areas.”

Ring said marketing research shows that more people, especially younger people, consider the environment and energy efficiency when making decisions on where they shop.

“We like to stay up and ahead of trends like this whenever possible,” Ring said. “Mostly though, this fits into an integrated approach we take in the company. We want to demonstrate we care about our guests, community and the environment. We feel we are doing the right thing. These initiatives also are proving to be good business practices.”

-- Hoffmann has written many columns and features for WisPolitics.com and WisBusiness.com over the years. He will write the GreenBiz column monthly.

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