Ottawa's Country Grocer supermarket

Country Grocer tackles energy challenges, big and small

After starting small, this Ottawa supermarket's energy-saving steps are paying off.

Staying on top of energy conservation is not a question with a “one-and-done” answer. For owners of small and medium-sized businesses in particular, being savvy about energy is an ongoing process.

“It may seem like a daunting process to research the latest technology and stay on top of government programs and regulation changes,” says Chris Castillo, a professor in the business management and entrepreneurship program at Algonquin College, “but there’s a growing pool of local experts who can help you focus on the unique needs of your business to save time and money.”

Castillo, who is also an independent business consultant, says a call to your local hydro company can get the ball rolling and by tapping into Save on Energy, Ontario’s province-wide energy efficiency program, businesses can keep an eye on industry trends and incentive programs without having to devote a lot of time to the process.

François Bouchard agrees. Bouchard owns Country Grocer, a 10,000-sq.-ft. supermarket in Ottawa. Driven to cut costs without negatively impacting his customer's experience, Bouchard started to research energy efficiency by looking at specific ways technology advances could address his biggest electricity challenges. He started small and had success, which led him to pursue an ongoing series of energy-saving upgrades. He first replaced all of the store’s ceiling lights and then tackled its indispensable – but energy-hungry – refrigeration system.

“We need refrigeration to operate, which makes us different from many other retailers,” Bouchard says of this extra cost burden. “Refrigeration is not something we can dim or turn off.”

This research led him to a solution – replacing two older refrigeration compressors with a single, more efficient compressor. He also upgraded all of his open-ended refrigeration cases with models that have doors.

Bouchard's efforts paid off. He reduced his store’s environmental footprint and has seen a significant drop in the energy consumption portion of his monthly bill. Still, he is far from done when it comes to saving energy.

“The technology we installed eight years ago has now been surpassed by more energy-efficient technology,” Bouchard says. “I do a walk-through with my electrical contractor twice a year to identify equipment that is consuming a lot of energy, so we can prioritize what to modernize next.”

Castillo says businesses of all sizes can benefit from incorporating efficiency into their ongoing operations, and suggests starting with a professional energy assessment. “Many of the business owners I work with don’t know all of their energy numbers, but understanding where costs are coming from allows you to prioritize. Assessments are a critical step in creating a specific plan for reducing energy costs.”

Castillo notes reducing energy costs impacts the bottom line – and often leads to unexpected benefits, such as when a move to lower-cost but often brighter LED lighting improves the customer shopping experience.

“Consumers are more informed than ever,” he says, citing online forums and reviews where customers actively search out and praise businesses that share their values. “They’ll patronize a business that has an energy conservation mindset and is implementing energy-saving measures. It’s beneficial for businesses to be able to say, ‘We’re enhancing the customer experience by retrofitting some of our refrigeration or our lighting.’ It makes customers aware you’re a forward-thinking business.”

This article appeared in The Globe and Mail in October 2017.