Wal-Mart goes green with sustainable store

August 01, 2005 |

On July 20, retail giant Wal-Mart opened a prototype supercenter in the Dallas suburb of McKinney, Texas, that relies heavily on sustainable design and green technology.

The store—and a nearly identical big box in Aurora, Colo., set to open later this year—are part of a three-year experiment that will determine the future of sustainable and green design for the world's largest retailer. Wal-Mart and its commissioning services agent, Colorado-based Architectural Energy Corporation (AEC), prepared a report that detailed their assumptions and beliefs about how the McKinney store would save resources and conserve energy. Auditors from the U.S. Energy Department's Oak Ridge (Tenn.) National Laboratory will monitor the Texas store for three years and compare the store's performance to its stated objectives.

"We're going to follow up with hard evidence," said Jeffrey Christian, director of the buildings technology center at Oak Ridge, at the media opening of the McKinney store. "This will be irrefutable, validated numbers on all the claims that were made today."

The Bergey XL-50 turbine offsets up to 5% of the store's electrical heating cost.Photo: Jeff Yoders

Wal-Mart will also measure the experimental store's performance against that of a so-called baseline Wal-Mart supercenter located next door. The Colorado store will also have a neighboring baseline supercenter for comparison. Wal-Mart officials would not specify the performance levels expected of the experimental stores.

The McKinney building uses more than 20 different green features, such as electricity-generating photovoltaic cells in the clerestories and skylights, flat-roof-mounted thin film, radiant floor heating, a wetland rainwater collection and filtration system, and a 50-kilowatt wind turbine that reportedly offsets up to 5% of electrical heating costs.

Irvine, Calif.-based LPA, which specializes in green projects, designed the two experimental stores.

"When this store was in its planning stages, Wal-Mart executives, AEC, LPA, and everyone involved in the building sat down and every sustainable element was put on the board," said Roderick Wille, SVP of sustainable construction in the Sacramento, Calif., office of Dallas-based Turner Corporation, the general contractor. "It was a long list."

Jim McClendon, Wal-Mart's mechanical engineering manager, said that some features of the experimental stores could make it into new Wal-Marts faster than the three-year experiment period. The energy-efficient light-emitting diode, or LED, lighting found in the Texas store will be used in most new locations, McClendon said.

"Anything that stands out and really works will make it into other stores," he said. "With the LED, it just very obviously saves costs and makes the product look better."

Wal-Mart's first sustainable store opened in McKinney, Texas on July 20Photo: Jeff Yoders

Wal-Mart officials would not say how much the new stores cost to build, although they did acknowledge the various experimental elements raised the price of the Texas store. According to McClendon, the two green stores will receive about 8% of their energy from solar and wind power, saving about 300,000 kilowatts of electricity a year.

McClendon said Wal-Mart would not petition the U.S. Green Building Council for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification of the two experimental stores, at least not until the three-year monitoring period with Oak Ridge National Laboratory is over. Christian cited ongoing changes in the application process for retail certification that could go into effect in the next three years as a cause for Wal-Mart to take a wait-and-see approach to LEED certification.

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