The Tailpipe End
By R.J. Adler
Our co-op has put a strong emphasis on Environmentally Sustainable and Energy Efficient Practices (Hint: It’s one of our Ends!). We do our best to pay attention to this End in every aspect of our operation. The easiest place to measure it is the “tailpipe end” of our business: how much energy do we use to heat the store, keep the lights on, keep the food cold, and make the sandwiches in the Deli? But the focus goes on beyond that. Our push for a vibrant local economy means that we source as much of our food from local farmers and producers as possible, thus cutting down the carbon footprint of the food we sell.
When we set out to expand, we did so with an ambitious goal: make sure that the expanded store uses the same amount of energy as the store today. That’s not a small feat; it’s going to be 50% bigger! But with a building as big and complex as our market demands, with an organization that reflects as many values as ours, we need to ask ourselves: how will we measure that?
One measurement is simple: the tailpipe. Will our expanded store–that’s built more tightly than our store is now–use the same amount of gas and electricity? Though we are insulating every wall to its maximum capacity and adding double doors to stop heat loss, we may fall short of this goal.
But consider the energy used before the tailpipe: a big part of our expansion is to improve store operations. We want the staff to have a better place to work thereby helping us, the member-owners, have a better shopping experience. Thus, this expansion has real potential to increase our membership so that more people can make more environmentally friendly choices. This means our local farms have the chance to increase production to feed more people locally, offsetting the food that comes from far away. We are expanding our offerings so you won’t have to stop at Shaw’s or Hannaford after the co-op to get the food the store doesn’t carry, which in turn means fewer and shorter car trips. All of these outcomes have a real effect on the net-energy that goes into our food production, not just our store.
The tailpipe easily draws our attention: it smokes right in front of our face, and it’s loud as it turns on, but that can distract us. When more people shop at the co-op, the ratio of energy-in to food-out improves. It is also important to note: before embarking on the expansion, options were considered that would have been more resource intensive such as building or renovating an existing space. And, it might have meant giving up our prime in-town location, which is bike and pedestrian accessible AND on the Addison County Transportation Resources (ACTR) Bus System. By expanding at our current location we continue to reduce the number of cars on the road because our staff, member-owners and other customers can access our location car-free.
While our expansion includes tremendous improvements and upgrades to our energy efficient practices, there will always be more to do. That is why we need to consider all of the data when we assess our energy consumption, not just the tailpipe.
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