Walmart Canada unveils a new DC with top-notch sustainability features
MM&D MAGAZINE, MARCH/APRIL 2011
When Walmart Canada Corp opened its new fresh food distribution centre (DC) in Balzac, Alberta late last year, the company also introduced Canada’s most innovative and sustainable facility. In fact, the company says it’s one of North America’s most energy-efficient DCs.
The new 400,000sqf facility began as a concept 18 months ago, says Karin Campbell, a spokesperson for Walmart. The company’s senior vice-president of supply chain and logistics was just in the planning stage for building the new DC when he challenged himself and his team “to build the most sustainable one possible, with the added challenge of delivering a return on investment,” says Campbell.
The facility—which will serve as a hub for fresh and frozen food destined for 104 of the company’s stores in Western Canada, from Manitoba to BC—cost Walmart $150 million to build, and boasts some high-tech, sustainable bells and whistles. The company estimates the facility will be 60 percent more energy efficient than its traditional centres, and expects its sustainability features to help the company eliminate approximately $4.8 million in energy costs over five years.
One significant sustainable feature is hydrogen fuel cells, a pilot project for the company. According to Campbell, the DC has a fleet of 71 material handling vehicles, which all use hydrogen fuel cells for power. Using fuel cells reduces C02 emissions from the vehicle fleet by 55 percent, or an estimated 530 tonnes annually, the equivalent of taking 101 passenger vehicles off the road per year.
Traditionally, says Campbell, these vehicles would have had lead-acid batteries as a power source. “You’d have to physically change out the battery and have it re-powered. So there was the downtime of the vehicle. Now there’s a hydrogen fuel station within the building and it takes a matter of minutes to refuel. So there are a lot of operational benefits,” says Campbell. “Also we didn’t have to build a large square footage area to house a battery changing facility.”
The facility’s motion-activated LED lighting is another significant feature. LED lighting doesn’t create heat, a benefit in a cooled-down environment. It also has instant on capability. “Typically, for safety reasons, a traditional incandescent light would have to be left on because in a cooled environment it couldn’t strike back on instantly. LED lights can,” explains Campbell. According to the company, using LED lighting will save an estimated seven million kilowatt hours of electricity over five years, and help it avoid an estimated $645,000 in costs over the same period. Per year, that’s enough electricity to power approximately 121 average-size Canadian households.
Cool it down
In addition, the site uses smart refrigeration, which means it uses ammonia instead of ozone-depleting freon. That translates into a system that is 33 percent more energy efficient. Designed with a demand-response capability, the refrigeration system is also able to draw electricity during off-peak grid times. Waste heat from the system is used to keep the sub-floor frost-free in the winter. Over five years it’s estimated that using smart refrigeration will help avoid approximately $2 million in costs.
Campbell says the company custom-designed its dock doors and doorways. Traditionally, dock doors have windows. But the Walmart team determined that the window was a huge point of cooling loss in a refrigerated building, so it worked with the manufacturer and redesigned the dock door to eliminate the window.