December 18, 2014

Grocery leader says think beyond LEED certification in conservation

Some business leaders in Iowa claim reducing a company’s carbon footprint can run counter to increasing their profit margins. Others say sustainable practices save them money through reduced energy costs and more efficient practices. For many companies, sustainability comes in the form of LEED certification — a set of “green” building and efficiency goals that can qualify a project for financial incentives.

But Mike Smith, who directs sustainability at Hy-Vee, says companies shouldn’t let LEED certification “drive the bus.” He says the supermarket chain has reduced energy costs by designing stores with natural light and installing doors on refrigerators, but other changes, like a storm-water cistern in Waukee, were less cost-effective. “That investment was made not so much for its value, but for its need to attain LEED points,” Smith said. “I think sometimes we’re driven not because they make sense from an economic or environmental perspective, but because we’re seeking LEED certification.”

Some companies have been slow to adopt environmentally-friendly business practices, citing profit margins and high up-front costs. Smith argues businesses should recognize climate change as a force that impacts their supply chain. “We tend to get into debates about causes and effects. We try to stay out of that, but we know we need to do the things and encourage the things that create stability in those systems,” Smith said.

Smith said a grocery store, like Hy-Vee, depends on the stability of the agricultural system, which is directly impacted by increasingly unpredictable weather patterns. Smith spoke at a sustainability forum last week in Des Moines with representatives from Wellmark and Integrated Power Corporation.