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What 2015 brought the retail industry

Here's how retail leaders continued to raise the bar on energy and climate this past year.

When I reflect on all that the retail industry has achieved with energy and climate in 2015, there is no question that 2015 was a hallmark year. 

Energy consuming systems and renewable energy markets continued to improve in efficiency and cost this year. And this trend — along with more states recognizing that policy enables efficiency and renewable energy investments that drive economic and jobs benefits  means more projects can get done. These projects are good business, and their value is further strengthened by their environmental and societal benefits.

Regardless of the year, I take pride in the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) members' recognition for leadership including the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Better Buildings programs; the EPA’s Green Power Partnership and Energy Star Partner of the Year awardsCDP’s Climate A List & Climate Disclosure Leadership Index (PDF); and the Solar Energy Industries Association’s (SEIA) Solar Means Business Top U.S. Corporate Solar Users.

But on top of all of that, 2015 still managed to raise the bar. While leading our Retail Energy Management Program, I saw the industry follow a two-pronged approach to energy and climate this year with unprecedented motivation:

Publicly voicing climate leadership

2015 stands out because companies are increasingly contextualizing their goals and pledges. This year we witnessed a whole new level of leadership when over a dozen retailers  many of whom are RILA members  signed the White House American Business Act on Climate Pledge, voicing support for a strong outcome in Paris and demonstrating an ongoing commitment to climate action.

Even more registered their commitments through the United Nations Non-State Actor Zone for Climate Action database. Participation in these efforts specifically was meant to bolster support for a strong COP21 outcome.

Those actions added to the landscape already inhabited by Ceres’ Business for Innovative Climate & Energy Policy (BICEP) project members  many of whom are retailers  who have been making public climate action commitments since 2009. In all cases, an amazing number of the commitments are notably ambitious and impressive, such as achieving 100 percent renewable energy procurement or 45 percent reductions in carbon emissions.

The list of retailers who are even setting their emissions reduction targets in line with climate science is also growing. While achieving those goals certainly won’t be easy, those companies recognize that it needs to happen  and that it will strengthen their businesses. 

Achieving carbon reductions through energy projects

Of course, goal setting is one thing and goal achievement another. While companies are continuously executing bread-and-butter energy improvements such as LEDs and HVAC retrofits, two specific trends emerged this year that will help retailers achieve their ambitious goals.

First is using energy data. On a recent RILA benchmarking call, nearly every energy manager mentioned that their biggest success in 2015 was either rolling out an Energy Management Systems (EMS) or starting to better leverage the data the company gets from its current EMS. And every one of those companies plans to expand its use of data in 2016. As retailers work to better understand their EMS data, more retrofit and efficiency opportunities are revealed in their vast building portfolios.

The second trend is renewable energy generation. Renewables have been popping up consistently throughout our interactions with retailers this year. Renewable energy is being explored both by companies on the leading edge and those considering them for the first time. With the wave of new energy and climate commitments in 2015, it’s no surprise that renewables represent an increasingly important tactic for reducing emissions and managing cost. 

After a year of such significant progress, I cannot wait to continue assisting our members in 2016 with these and other strategies to help them meet their energy goals. 

RILA itself gained new resources such as DOE funding and strengthened strategic partnerships that will benefit our retail energy community moving forward. In 2016, we get to put those resources into action to address persistent challenges such as project financing and leased facilities.

Retail energy management

Retailers have a significant opportunity to reduce the energy consumption and associated greenhouse gases of their vast portfolio of locations, to the benefit of both companies and the environment. RILA is committed to helping its members overcome barriers to enhanced energy performance across their building portfolio through its Retail Energy Management Program.

RILA and its program members are working to develop "Implementation Model" case studies, educate the industry and spur adoption of Implementation Models with a focus on three key areas:

1. Financial management, to explore how energy managers can "speak finance," improve project proposal and piloting processes, create innovation funds and use external financing. 

2. Leased store management, to engage landlords and internal real estate, construction and store associate teams and overcome the additional energy management challenges faced in leased facilities.

3. Renewable energy, to leverage existing renewable energy organizations and expertise to educate energy managers on the landscape of renewable energy procurement options.

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