By Dick Ernst
It is hard to fathom that our “new” Co-op is now nearly two years old. Having come to grips with this realization, I thought it appropriate to revisit all the anticipated energy-saving and eco-friendly goals incorporated in the design and see how we are measuring up to these objectives.
The design of our now nearly two-year-old building incorporated many environmentally friendly features. The goal was to go well beyond the requirements of “LEED” certification to create a structure and infrastructure that not only minimizes its impact on the environment but also nourishes it. In addition, it was hoped that many of its features would contribute to a healthy and vibrant downtown community.
Location: Rebuilding at our existing downtown location was deliberate and consistent with the desires of our shareholders. It not only promotes the local economy, but also allows for many downtown residents to shop within walking or biking distance of their residence. Our collaboration with the Windham Housing Trust, which built 24 apartments above the store, has not only provided needed housing, but also has given those residents easy access to wholesome groceries without additional fuel consumption.
Grounds: Storm water run-off was a big concern in the past. We have been effective in reducing that impact dramatically in the new layout. The bio-retention ponds at the center of the parking area are absorbing and filtering water before it enters the storm drains. Riparian buffers protect the Whetstone Brook’s southern bank by using runoff to nourish the natural grasses and wildflowers planted there last fall. The brick entry outside our store entrance is pervious, allowing water to flow through to a filtrating layer of porous material beneath. Up at the housing and community room entrance on Canal Street, the plaza is actually a green roof with lightweight moisture-absorbing soil that supports low maintenance plantings in that area.
Parking and Access: Despite the grand hope of reducing vehicular traffic and promoting a pedestrian-friendly plaza entrance, the issue of parking convenience and safety is still at the fore. We hope to improve and optimize conditions for both pedestrian and vehicle traffic in the coming months, while holding to our goal of promoting the use of public and non-motorized transportation.
The Shell: From top to bottom and side to side, the building envelope is tight and highly insulated. To highlight just a few details, we have recycled cellulose insulation, triple-glazed windows, air-tight seals, foam-insulated floors, all of which combine to achieve R25 – R40 insulation values. The exterior is clad in Vermont slate siding and cement clapboards that require very little maintenance. All the specified materials were set in place to maximize thermal efficiency. In addition, wherever possible, building materials were locally sourced, durable, and fabricated using non-toxic eco-friendly processes.
The Interior: Let’s start on the upper roof, a good percentage of which is covered by an array of solar panels. To date they have generated over 30,000 kilowatts of power, which offsets that which we buy from Green Mountain Power, and for which receive a monthly credit on our electric bill. This translates into a dollar savings of around $4,400 per year. On the lower roof, multiple skylights provide natural lighting in the store. In addition there are louvered blinds on south-facing office windows that “bend” sunlight toward the reflective ceiling, casting light across the entire open-office area.
Finishes: VOC-free paint coats all interior walls and the air is filtered and infused with outside ventilation to keep it as healthy and dust free as possible. Nearly every surface—from the recycled sorghum cabinet panels to the counter tops, produced locally from recycled paper; to the slip-resistant low maintenance concrete floors—bears evidence of environmental conservation.
Fixtures: The sprayers that irrigate the fresh produce case are supplied with reverse-osmosis filtered water, as is the coffee machine, bulk tofu rinse water, and water used for cooking in the commissary. Low-flow sinks and toilets can be found throughout the store.
Lighting: Efficient T5 overhead lamps light the aisles while LED lamps illuminate the display cases. These use less power but also emit less heat, thereby saving on refrigeration.
Refrigeration: By far the highest energy consumer in a grocery store is refrigeration. Although our electricity usage has increased in the new building because we have more display cases and more food preparation equipment, we have offset this expense by recovering heat generated by the compressors to heat the building and for domestic hot water. The offset is reflected mostly in propane, which supplements the heat garnered from the refrigeration system. The WHHT apartments above benefit from this recovered heat as well, reimbursing the Co-op for the BTUs provided by our system. In addition to the LED lights, our refrigerated cases use triple-paned glass and highly efficient fans to save energy. Several walk-in coolers are outfitted with “Freeaire” fans that bring in outside air to cool the product in the winter months. This saves compressor run time.
Controls: As with most systems in today’s world, the majority of our operating systems are automated, meaning electronically programmed. Here are a few examples:
Lighting: The main store overhead lamps are on three circuits which go off automatically when the store is unoccupied. Offices and other areas are on a variety of controls, including motion sensors, light dimming sensors, and timed sensors.
Heating and ventilation: Settings for AC, heat, and ventilation are programmed by time, temperature, and humidity, and can be changed remotely by computer.
Refrigeration: There is an elaborate control system on each of our three compressor units which monitors and regulates cooling and defrosting cycles. In addition it sends us alarms when something is amiss.
Overall, the short term goals outlined in the design of our new Co-op have been realized. Further adjustments will be made to improve the scope of our environmental, social, and community impact. One thing is for certain, the Redevelopment project took us a huge step forward on the road to Regeneration.