With new store, Walgreens goes net-zero for the first time

Sporting two wind turbines, 850 solar panels and a geothermal system burrowed 550 feet into the ground, Walgreens -- the largest drug store in the nation -- has opened its first net-zero energy retail store in the U.S., in the Chicago suburb of Evanston, Ill.

At the ribbon-cutting, Mark Wagner, Walgreen's president of operations, said, "We have facilities that utilize wind turbines, solar installations and geothermal technologies, but this is the first time we are bringing all three of these technologies and many more together in one place. Our purpose as a company is to help people get, stay and live well, and that includes making our planet more livable by conserving resources and reducing pollution." 

Thomas Connolly, Walgreens vice president of facilities development, said, "We are investing in a net-zero energy store so we can bring what we learn to our other stores and share what we learn with other companies. Because we operate more than 8,000 stores, anything we do that reduces our carbon footprint can have a broad, positive impact on the nation's environment."

Going net-zero

The store is on Lake Michigan, which provides plenty of wind for power. One wind turbine is situated in front of the Walgreens sign, and solar cascades across the entire roof. 

Engineering estimates -- which can vary based on weather, store operations and systems performance -- indicate the store will use 200,000 kilowatt hours a year of electricity while generating 220,000 kilowatt hours per year.

The store is built with state-of-the-art energy-efficient materials, runs fully on LED lights and uses the most efficient carbon dioxide refrigerant for heating, cooling and refrigeration equipment. It has bike racks, a bike repair station and an electric-car charging station.

A sustainable commitment

Walgreens is participating in the Obama Administration's Better Buildings Challenge, which commits the company to a 20 percent reduction in energy across the chain by 2020.

For the Evanston store, Walgreens is seeking LEED Platinum certification and Net Zero Certification from the Living Building Challenge and has received GreenChill Platinum certification from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Some eco-friendly vendors for the store include Trane, CREE Lighting, Acuity Lighting, Cooper Lighting, CalStar Products, GE Lighting, GI Energy, SoCore Energy, Osman Construction, Wing Power Energy and Camburas & Theodore Architects.

Walgreens is truly becoming an environmental leader. It has 150 stores using solar, one running on geothermal power and a distribution center in Texas that runs on wind. More than 5,000 stores have energy management systems and use LEDs for cooler and freezer lighting. Net-zero waste has been achieved at 15 of the company's distribution centers. It was one of the first to install electric vehicle charging stations and now 400 stores have them.

In addition, Walgreens ranks among the top corporate users of solar energy.

In terms of its products, Walgreens has a private label green products line that spans more than two dozen personal care and household cleaning products. It is also incorporating organic foods and wellness programs in stores, morphing into "wellness" centers that help people stay healthy. It recently came in third for selling the safest cosmetics in stores.

This story first appeared at SustainableBusiness.com. Photo of net-zero store via Walgreens.