The retailer is trying a new more energy-efficient refrigerant in 11 stores around the country as it tries to go green.
Target is testing a new eco-friendly refrigerant for the coolers and freezers in its new grocery sections. The North St. Paul store is one of 11 Target stores testing the new system in cooperation with the federal EPA. Katy Burke of Minneapolis was shopping for single meals in the frozen section.
Customers won't notice but Target and other grocers, including Supervalu, are testing a new type of refrigerant designed to reduce leakage from coolers and freezers, lower greenhouse gas emissions and, eventually, reduce the cost of operations.
Target is testing the refrigerant in 11 of its stores in six states with the help of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which calls the program "GreenChill."
The technical name of the new refrigerant is 1,1,1,2-tetrafluoroethane, but it goes by the shorthand name of R-134a.
The bottom line is that the gas is a "high temperature" refrigerant less prone to leakage and more energy efficient. It is also used in automobile air conditioners.
"These are very complex systems," said Target's Dan Riley of the coolers and freezers in the chain's "PFresh" food sections. "In each Target store there are many, many miles of coils. At every junction there is an opportunity for a leak. These [existing] gases are very leak prone. They are under pressure."
In December, Target announced its commitment to sustainability and the GreenChill program fit into the chain's intention to use resources responsibly and reduce the company's carbon footprint.
Although the GreenChill program began in 2007, Target joined this year in the wake of a recent surge in store remodelings to expand the PFresh offerings, including 350 stores last year and 350 to 400 stores this year.
Supervalu joined the GreenChill program in 2008 and has seen its ozone and greenhouse emissions decline by 13 percent.
To highlight Target's commitment to testing the new refrigerant, the Minneapolis-based retailer recently conducted a ceremony at its newly renovated store in Hudson, Wis., which featured the manager of the EPA's GreenChill program, Keilly Witman, and U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis.
"The GreenChill program is a great example of what can happen when businesses and the public sector work together to reduce the impact on our environment," said Gina McCarthy, an administrator in the EPA's Office of Air and Radiation.
The EPA estimates that refrigerant usage by participants in the GreenChill program is 50 percent below the industry average. If all grocers switched to the new gas, the industry would save $100 million a year in refrigeration costs while cutting the emission of carbon dioxide by 22 million metric tons a year and other ozone-depleting substances by 240 tons a year.
"We are pleasantly surprised by the general cross between efficiency and sustainability," said Riley, who is vice president for property development operations at Target, when asked about cost savings.
Target said it based its decision about which refrigerant to test on research and recommendations from the EPA.
Riley said Target will closely monitor the refrigeration systems at its 11 test stores and will use the EPA's findings from other participating grocers to benchmark its results against the industry. The stores are in Wisconsin, Minnesota, California, Texas, Florida and Illinois.
"We wanted a dispersion across different geographies because we know that stores react differently in other geographies," Riley said.
Target also will use the EPA's research on cooling systems to make refrigeration more energy efficient.
Target currently has about 500 outlets with expanded fresh and frozen food sections. Target will look at results from the 11 stores to determine if the R-134a refrigerant will be incorporated into future store remodels. Target expects to have about 850 PFresh stores by the end of 2011. Target, as a general practice, did not provide a breakdown of operating costs for its grocery business.
The GreenChill program includes 7,000 supermarkets operating in 50 states. Chains include Food Lion, Publix, Whole Foods and Hy-Vee as well as all of Supervalu's banners including Jewell, Albertson's and Cub divisions.
Supervalu has won several EPA awards for its work on GreenChill. A Star Market store in Chestnut Hills, Mass., was named "Best of Best" for a GreenChill certified store and the company received an "Environmental Achievement Award."
David Phelps • 612-673-7269