July 21, 2005
Wal-Mart Hopes ‘Green’ Store Brings Greenbacks
MCKINNEY, Texas -- The 120-foot wind turbine in the Wal-Mart parking lot is the first clue that this won't be your typical superstore shopping experience.
Then there are the photovoltaic solar panels, which look like a band of blue tiles running the length of the store front, and the vaulted glass-ceiling entryways made up of thin, clear solar panels encased in glass.
Wal-Mart's rapid expansion has long been opposed by green groups who say that the hundreds of new stores opened each year cover thousands of acres of green space with concrete. Wal-Mart hopes this store will placate critics as well as save money.
"We're going to see if the energy savings are there," said Don Moseley, head of experimental projects for Wal-Mart. "We expect some things to fail."
Eric Olson, head of the Sierra Club's anti-sprawl campaign, said one green store isn't enough to make up for the damage already done by the 3,700-store chain.
"We've heard this before from Wal-Mart, that they want to be an environmental leader, but I can't say we've seen that come to fruition, judging from their record," he said.
The results remain to be seen at its test store, which opened for business this week.
Walk in and you'll find the familiar assortment of fresh produce alongside low-priced clothing, diapers and tires.
But then there's the grid of white fabric ductwork -- or "Duct Sox" -- suspended 11 feet above the floor, and the black tubing around the frozen food sections that recycles the hot air generated by the refrigerators.
Moseley said the low-hanging ductwork will cut energy costs because it heats or cools only the lower 11 feet of the store, unlike ceiling-mounted ventilation systems that need to push air at least twice as far.
In the summer, for example, the Duct Sox must start with air at 62 degrees Fahrenheit in order to keep the shopping area at a comfortable 72 to 75 degrees. A typical ceiling duct system would need to start with air at 52 degrees.
Wal-Mart estimates it will save enough electricity to power 70 single-family homes for a year.
The 120-foot, 50-kilowatt wind turbine in front of the store has a 46-foot diameter rotor and cuts the store's electricity consumption by 5 percent, Wal-Mart said.
A TRIP TO THE GENTS'
At the back of the store, in the men's room, you'll find urinals with no flush handles.
Wal-Mart insists they are clean and odor-free, and will save 80,000 gallons of water per year. A special oil in the base keeps the waste down and prevents odors from drifting up.
In a side room near the auto repair dock is a large storage tank that holds the used cooking oil from fried chicken made in the deli section. In winter that will be mixed with motor oil extracted during oil changes and used to heat the store.
Behind the store are what appear to be two retention ponds. In reality, they form a "bio-swale" -- a channel where rocks, shrubs and grasses help trap pollutants and cleanse runoff from the parking lot.
The cleaner water is then pumped via windmill power back through an irrigation system to water the trees and shrubbery around the store. Each plant has its own tiny black tube that drips just enough water to sustain it.
Moseley said the retailer brought in two dozen more trees to add shade and enhance the ambience around the parking lot. The trees were trucked in from a nearby car dealership that was going to chop them down because they provided flocks of birds with a convenient perch directly above the cars.
"Birds and new cars don't mix," he said with a smile.
NO MORE 'WAL-MA_T'
Wal-Mart spokesman Gus Whitcomb acknowledges that the green store cost more to build, but it is hoped that the money saved on heating and cooling, water and even lightbulbs will make up the difference.
He declined to give details on construction costs, saying that was "proprietary" information.
Wal-Mart plans to study results from this store before deciding which environmentally friendly systems will be incorporated into other stores, but one idea that started here is already being used elsewhere, Wal-Mart's Moseley said.
The store is lit with long-lasting LED -- light emitting diode -- bulbs instead of the typical fluorescent strips. The retailer has started using those bulbs in the "WAL-MART" signs on recently opened storefronts.
Because the bulbs last longer, Moseley said it is not only cost-effective but cuts down on those embarrassing moments when one bulb burns out, inadvertently changing the company's name to something amusing like WAL-MA_T or WAL-_ART.
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