Growing consumer awareness about global warming has prompted several leading retailers to rethink their sales strategies.
Just look at the big-box stores: Wal-Mart and The Home Depot
have begun promoting energy-saving fluorescent light bulbs, despite
the fact incandescent bulbs are more profitable. Others, such as
Lowe’s, Target and Timberland, now offer organic
Meanwhile, Office Depot has reduced its stores’ energy
consumption through a number of eco-friendly initiatives, cutting
greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent. But retail giants
aren’t alone in shifting the paradigm from profits to
The rising cost of fuel, power and materials has prompted
company owners across the spectrum to embrace an environmentally
conscious approach to their businesses. Some are cutting back on
energy use, while others are recycling, or reducing their
consumption of paper goods. Still others are offering a wider
selection of sustainable products.
Heating and cooling
Little more than a year ago, Henry Gruber unveiled plans for a new,
energy-efficient retail space for his pool and sauna business. He
moved his business to a new space that is 200 square feet less than
the former St. Cloud, Minn., location.
The owner of Hänk’s Häuser in Waite Park,
Minn., had to consider the climate in his area: bone-chilling cold
in wintertime; triple digits in summer. In fact, the previous July
saw temperatures reach 90 degrees — inside the
So Gruber added insulation to the roof, and placed new heating
and air-conditioning ducts inside the retail showroom. Installing
the ducts in the store helped him maximize energy conservation
because air leakage is no longer as much a problem as when ductwork
is located in the attic. Gruber’s insulation is protected by
a vapor barrier, and the store ducts are painted a deep, muted
green to blend with the ceiling.
By placing ductwork inside their buildings, retailers have
found they can save money because the stores require smaller
furnaces and air conditioners.
One morning, about a month after the remodel, Gruber discovered
his thermostat had climbed three degrees overnight. Though the
thermometer outside read a frosty 10 degrees — and his
furnace was turned off — enough sunlight had entered through
the windows to raise the temperature inside.
Savings on electricity have been significant, Gruber notes. His
first electric bill was $180 less than at his old
Retailer Paradise Pools & Spas is saving on utilities, too
— approximately $100 a month since “greening” its
Goose Creek, S.C., store. Renovations included removing the tiles
and racks of the old suspended ceiling, and adding new plaster
along with 8 inches of insulation.
All that is not to say there are no complications. For
starters, the retailer usually must own the building before any
significant upgrades can be made. Also, the task may be hindered by
age because retrofitting an older building could prove too daunting
When it comes to lighting, energy savings can be realized in a
number of ways. Some retailers, such as Aqua Pool & Spa in
Manteca, Calif., allow natural light to illuminate their stores
whenever possible. When the room needs cooling, forget about
cranking up the AC. Instead, attach shades or sunscreens to the
windows that receive the most direct sunlight.
“When it’s bright [outside], it doesn’t make
a difference if [only] half the lights are on,” says Gregg
Whitley, vice president of Aqua Pool & Spa, which also is a
Pool & Spa News Top Builder.
Among other eco-friendly adaptations, compact fluorescent light
bulbs are replacing their incandescent counterparts. In addition to
a longer life span, today’s fluorescent lights use electronic
ballasts, which turn on almost instantly, as opposed to traditional
In Melbourne, Fla., Bruce Rothschild replaced the incandescent
bulbs in his mood room with slow color-changing LED lights. The
owner of Your Backyard Superstore says the colors look brighter and
the LED does not emit heat like incandescent or
In addition, Rothschild says, lighting costs have dropped
nearly 50 percent since the switch was made.
It’s important to note that fluorescent bulbs carry
unique safety requirements. Broken bulbs, for example, may release
hazardous mercury vapors. Rather than just vacuuming up the pieces,
the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends opening windows
to allow the room to ventilate for at least 15 minutes. Officials
also suggest wearing protective gloves before handling broken
pieces, and disposing of any waste in double plastic
Unfortunately, most lighting alternatives tend toward the
expensive. Fluorescent bulbs cost three to 10 times more than
incandescents. Long-term savings often make up the difference,
though. The life span of fluorescents is usually eight to 10 times
In a typical month, Paradise Pools & Spas accumulates up to 4
tons of wooden pallets, which it uses to ship pool chemicals and
Before, employees had to load the pallets onto a truck, drive
to the local landfill and pay (usually about $40 per ton) to have
them turned into mulch.
Today, that same retailer contracts with a local recycling
service that comes to the store and picks up any undamaged pallets
at no cost. The recycler then resells the pallets within its own
network of shipping companies.
Paradise Pools & Spas follows a similar routine for
cardboard, outsourcing its paper-waste pickup. More effort is
“One of the biggest questions is, ‘What do I do
with all these boxes?’” Whitley says.
He directs his staff to reuse as many as possible by packing
larger purchase items for customers. The retailer arranges for a
local recycling plant to pick up any remaining
Of course, breaking down piles of cardboard can be
time-consuming. And the labor required, Whitley notes, may even cut
“But not everything a business does has to be
profitable,” he says. “You do it because it’s the
right thing to do.”
That’s also why Rothschild encourages his employees to
recycle in the workplace, whether it’s cans, paper, cardboard
or plastic. The approach seems to be paying
“I noticed that attitudes have really changed around
here,” he says. “Now they all recycle at home.
I’m happy to hear that.”
Sustainable materials have burst onto the mainstream scene. Look no
further than HGTV’s Green Home Giveaway, a TV program that
gives away a “green” home and showcases new,
Much of the “green” furniture in today’s
marketplace leans toward the high end. It’s built out of
everything from reclaimed wood to poly board to composites made
from recycled plastics, pulp and resins.
Teak has emerged as a popular wood for backyard furniture, says
Michael Galica, owner, president and CEO of Marin Outdoor Living in
Greenbrae, Calif. But you must be aware of its source, he warns.
Old growth or reclaimed teak is a very hard, durable wood. But the
plantation variety that’s being exported largely from
Indonesia and South America is a monoculture, which means
it’s young and porous, and doesn’t withstand the
elements as well.
Galica makes sure all his wood has been certified by the Forest
Stewardship Council, an international organization that promotes
responsible management of the world’s forests. In fact, he
acquires all the reclaimed teak in his furniture direct from the
He also carries the denser, heavier Brazilian Ipe and Machiche,
a dark wood from Guatemala whose cost is comparable to plantation
teak. A set of table and four chairs made of the material runs
The pieces have sold so well over the past two years that
Galica is currently designing a signature line of stainless steel
and reclaimed teak products from Indonesia and Costa
Rothschild, too, is branching out. He started carrying a
refined polymer from the California Design Group, an Akron,
Ohio-based company that creates spa steps and bars, planters and
storage units from recycled milk cartons.
Because manufacturing composites is more labor-intensive, the
end result is typically not cheap, which is another potential
problem for retailers. Richlite Co. of Tacoma, Wash., makes its
furniture from resins and recycled paper pulp at a plant in Los
Angeles. The company sells dining table sets from $5,000 to
In other cases, the market simply may not be ready for
sustainable goods. Two years ago, retailer/builder Aqua Quip began
carrying a line of recycled plastic dinnerware. The move has yet to
“[We’re] not sure why it has not sold,” says
Kathleen Carlson, senior vice president of sales and marketing at
the Renton, Wash.-based Pool & Spa News Top Builder.
“[Management] really loved it. But we brought it in and it
has sat at the stores.”