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NMSU’s College of Engineering helps regional grocers implement sustainable practices

Grocers in southern New Mexico have the opportunity to generate operational savings and increased revenue through a United States Department of Agriculture-funded sustainability initiative. Led by the New Mexico State University Engineering New Mexico Resource Network, part of the College of Engineering, and Manomet, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit, grocers can begin the path toward earning an environmental certification designed to help them reduce their environmental footprint.

A woman, standing on the left, speaks with two men, standing, near a grocery freezer.
(Left to right) Catrina Damrell, Manomet Grocery Stewardship Certification field manager, Jalal Rastegary, New Mexico State University College of Engineering associate research scientist, and Rob Baur, Toucan Market director, discuss sustainability issues during a no-cost energy assessment. (NMSU photo)

Six southern New Mexico grocery stores – Mountain View Market Co-op, Toucan Market, Jim’s Super Market, Belem’s Grocery Store and La Esquina Grocery – have taken the first step toward earning Grocery Stewardship Certification. GSC, developed by Manomet in 2012, is the nation’s first and only grocery sustainability system. This is Manomet’s first GSC partnership in the Southwest.

ENMRN provides statewide engineering extension and outreach services across the state, leveraging its network of industry, community and academic partners. ENMRN focuses on pollution prevention, energy efficiency, professional development short courses and workshops and STEM outreach programs for K-12 students and teachers.

Through joint participation in the USDA Rural Business Development Grant, ENMRN and Manomet and have conducted energy assessments at the six regional grocery stores. The assessments address seals on walk-in freezers, airflow from vents in produce cases, meat cases that use convection cooling instead of ice, use of LED or motion-sensing lights versus standard lights, and other cost-saving measures that are easily implementable – some even on the same day.

“Sometimes during assessments, we find things like machines not being turned off at night, for instance. In a deli section alone you can see where the cost associated with lost energy can quickly rise,” said Catrina Damrell, Manomet Grocery Stewardship Certification field manager. “Even something as simple as soap plays a role. We have data from a study that shows a 16 percent reduction in soap cost if a company uses foam soap instead of lotion soap in their restrooms.”

When multiplied across the store over the course of months or years, savings of mere cents per day can add up to hundreds and thousands of dollars. Grocery stores enrolled in the GSC program since 2012 have saved a total of $43,969,115, which averages about $71,000 per store.

“We were interested in getting feedback, and also we are always interested in doing anything and everything to partner with the university – they are the experts. We aim to keep up with new technology and lighting, and this evaluation will help us keep making those decisions,” said Rob Baur, store director at Toucan Market in Las Cruces.

The pilot project, which currently serves grocery stores in Doña Ana, Luna, Otero and Sierra counties, offers stores no-cost energy assessment walkthroughs and recommendations. Stores which participate in the walkthrough are eligible to apply for certification and assistance through additional audits and NMSU Cooperative Extension’s ICAN (ideas for cooking and nutrition) program.

“This is a tremendous opportunity to strengthen our regional reach through data-driven sustainability practices,” says Patricia Sullivan, grant co-principal investigator and associate dean of outreach in the NMSU College of Engineering. “Having grown up around the grocery store business, I am excited to support this effort to foster sustainability and cost-savings, especially for rural and independent grocery stores.”

If you are a grocery business operating in Doña Ana, Luna, Otero or Sierra counties and would like to schedule a no-cost energy assessment, contact Jalal Rastegary at rastegar@nmsu.edu or 575-646-1510. To learn more about additional no-cost sustainability programs for businesses in other sectors visit http://engrnm.nmsu.edu.