While wasting time before our flight home from Colorado, we stumbled upon one of the named experimental “green” Wal-Marts in the United States. Apparently, there were only two Wal-Mart Experimental Sustainable Supercenters, one in Aurora, CO and one in McKinney, TX.
The 200,000-square-foot store, located at 3301 North Tower Road, in Aurora, CO opened in 2005 and was supposed to be tested and evaluated for green strategies over the next three years. Here is a press release, on the opening of the store from Wal-Mart’s corporate website: Wal-Mart opens 2nd experimental supercenter. The mission of this store was: “…to learn more about how Wal-Mart, and the entire industry, can improve the area of environmental sustainability, this store will experiment with materials, technology and processes which will reduce the amounts of energy and natural resources required to operate and maintain the store, reduce the amount of materials needed to construct the facility and substitute, when appropriate, the amount of renewable materials used to construct and maintain the facility.”
According to the website and the press kit, incorporated into this Supercenter are a variety of sustainable features, including:
- Stormwater Control and Water Conservation – porous pavement in the parking area, infiltration beds under the parking lot, and a rainwater harvesting and treatment system.
- Bioswale – a landscaped area in the parking area designed to trap pollutants and cleanse water before it leaves the area.
- Wind Generation – a 50-kilowatt wind turbine, provides 1.25% energy, which is enough energy to power 10 homes.
- Solar Energy – Photovoltaic panels on the roof that can power 15 homes.
- Lighting – LED Lighting, Solartube Skylights, Dimming Controls and Natural Day-Lighting.
- Climate Control – Evaporative Cooling, Radiant Floor Heating and Low Velocity Air Distribution System.
- Internal Building Experiments – Recovered Cooking Oil, Burning Used Motor Oil, Waterless Urinals, Light-Powered Infrared Sinks, Alternative Refrigeration Units, Green Screens and Sustainable Interior Finishes.
- Recycling Efforts – Composting, Reduced VOC products and Construction Waste Recycling.
All of these features combined (about 50 experiments), at the time, makes this Supercenter one of the most sustainable projects in the country. The Supercenter prototype was 25-30 percent more efficient and produce 30 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than other Wal-Marts.
As a visitor, I was disappointed in the daily operation for customers. I considered this Wal-Mart mediocre in its “green” efforts and it didn’t meet any of my expectations. First, I didn’t find any recycling containers inside or outside for bottles or even for plastic bags. In South Carolina, every Wal-Mart has containers for plastic bag recycling. I expected at least a recycling option at a named sustainable Wal-Mart, especially in Colorado. Second, the products were the same as any other Wal-Mart, but I thought, maybe there would have been a “green” aisle or at least a larger presence of greener products. Not the case here. Third, the only visible “green” features were the gigantic skylights, if you consider those green at all. To me, skylights bring in natural light, but also let out valuable amounts of heating and cooling. And finally, fourth, there is a bioswale path in between the parking lot, which is obviously man-made and very random. In fact, I noticed that it was harder to navigate a shopping cart through a bumpy path and over bridges.
Sustainability is very important during building construction, but I also believe that sustainability should be considered after the building is complete. The carbon footprint of construction may be a less impact in the beginning through recycled materials and efficient energy systems, but once the building is complete, the carbon footprint may grow bigger over time without proper daily “green” operations. For this Wal-Mart, I would have hoped that, although it was built as an experiment in 2005, it would remain a model for the future of sustainability. However, it seems to have retired its green standing once the three experimental years finished.
According to their website, Wal-Mart continues to pursue sustainability in its corporate image and throughout its stores, check out Wal-Mart’s webpage on sustainability. It seems really nice online, but I have yet to see a major green impact through Wal-Mart – plastic bags are still available by the dozens, products still come from China and you can’t buy a recycling bin. However, all major green impacts are the immediate result of the consumer.
~~On August 21, 2011, I wrote an email to corporate regarding an update or report for the store. I haven’t received a response, but I will update this blog post, if/when I do. This is what I wrote: “I am a Sustainability Coordinator at a university in South Carolina and I happen to visit your Aurora, CO “experimental sustainability” store last week. I noticed that it had opened in 2005 as a 3-year experiment with NREL compiling data on the sustainability of the store. I was wondering if you had any published documents with the results of the experiment and/or how it has contributed to future store designs. I am also a green blogger and would like to write about my visit. Your help is greatly appreciated. Thank you.”