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Retailer Kohl's progresses in solar, green store certifications

Retailer Kohl's progresses in solar, green store certifications

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With more than 590 stores certified under the Energy Star program, Kohl's is a sector lead in green power practices.

I sort of need to pick my battles when it comes to poring through all the corporate sustainability reports that are released each spring, but I have several lined up for this week, including the very first one from department store chain Kohl's. Its report covers updates against 2010 goals in five areas. The main environmental goals are:

  1. Achieve 500 Energy Star-labeled stores and operate via 100 percent renewable energy
  2. Submit and receive LEED certification for all stores constructed since fall 2008
  3. Achieve net zero emissions for three years beginning in 2010
  4. Recycle 85 percent of all waste generated by Kohl's operations

Here's a quick snapshot of its progress against those goals:

  • Solar shines: Kohl's reports that as of last December, almost 600 Kohl's stores were designated as Energy Star rated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). That's close to half of all its stores. What's more, Kohl's has more than 100 locations that are using solar power across California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, Oregon and Wisconsin. In fact, Kohl's claims to be the largest retail host of solar electricity in North America, generating roughly the same amount as the five largest photovoltaic systems in the United States combined. The average store in California has 1,650 solar panels on a typical 88,000-square-foot building. Kohl's has been a leader in the EPA Green Power program since 2007. It buys enough renewable energy certificates along with its solar installations to offset 100 percent of its energy use.
  • Green building: So far, 590 Kohl's stores are part of the Energy Star label program, which means they use an average of 35 percent less electricity and one-third less carbon dioxide than the typical commercial building of comparable size. Kohl's has earned certification under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program for 72 stores and one of its office buildings. Among the ways that Kohl's has achieved these ratings is by relying more heavily on local or regional building materials for construction project, by using a special sort of roofing to mitigate "heat islands" and by using native vegetation and smarter irrigation systems. Landscaping water use at the news stores is about half of the typical location; consumption related to plumbing was reduced by 20 percent to 30 percent.
  • Emissions: This is a tricky measure to report on. The good news is that Kohl's has reduced its normalized emissions per 1,000 square feet of operations to 7.94 in 2010, down from 8.23 in 2007. While its emissions in 2010 were less than in 2009, the fact is that it has more stores. In 2010, its total emissions were 865,950 metric tons, compared with 866,863 metric tons in the previous year. (That includes direct, indirect and travel-related emissions.) Kohl's purchased carbon offsets to reach its net zero goal. Another thing it is doing to cut emissions: filling trucks on the "backhaul" trips from its stores that were traditionally empty. This has helped cut back on the impact from its transportation activities. It is also relying more on rail transport. And watch out supply chain: Kohl's is now scoring 322 top merchandise vendors on their own sustainability metrics. Of those, approximately 17 percent fell into an "unacceptable" or "needs improvement" category. They are being called upon to improve those ratings.
  • Waste not: Kohl's didn't manage to meet its goal for waste reduction either, coming in at a recycling rate of 77 percent. This was a four percent increase over 2009, but shy of its 85 percent goal. The biggest part of its recycling content is cardboard and paper waste.

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Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure