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Lowe’s Sustainability Report: Purchased Green Power Jumps 34%

Home improvement retailer Lowe’s purchased 34 percent more green power in 2011 than in 2010, according to the company’s 2011 corporate sustainability report.

In 2011, the retailer bought 148 million kWh of renewable power, enough to power three percent of its operations, and up from 111 million kWh in 2010. From 2009 to 2010 the amount of green power purchased by the store stayed the same. Lowe’s currently sits sixth on the EPA’s list of America’s top retail green power purchasers, the report says.

As well as buying renewable energy, the retailer also generates solar power using photovoltaic cells on some store rooftops. Lowe’s solar systems together generated more than 3.2 million kWh of electricity in 2011. The retailer avoided 1,700 metric tons of CO2 emissions last year through its solar generation, and in 2011 two new stores opened with solar systems on their roofs.

The company has also entered into a partnership with solar firm Sungevity to run a solar leasing program aimed at lowering start-up costs to customers wanting to add solar power to their homes, the 2011 CSR report says.

Lowe’s stores represent the largest part of its environmental footprint and use 93 percent of the energy it consumes. Lighting, heating and cooling systems account for the majority of that energy use, the company says. From 2007 to 2010 the company reduced the average energy use in its stores by 13 percent through the installation of such measures as lighting upgrades and cool roofs, the annual report says. The report does not give figures for 2011 on store energy use, company energy use as a whole or greenhouse emissions.

The retailer now has a goal of a further 7 percent reduction in store energy use by 2016, but the report does not give a baseline figure against which any improvement will be judged.

The report details a number of strategies including installation of demand-controlled ventilation systems in about 150 stores each year, and replacing signage lighting with LED when existing bulbs burn out. The company has also installed lighting occupancy sensors  in 1,700 stores and daylighting controls in 700 locations. Lowe’s also has sub-metering installed in 30 stores to help it identify unusual patterns and optimize energy consumption, the report says.

The company recycled 19 percent less wood from pallets and 4 percent less cardboard in 2011 than 2010. In 2011 the company recycled 262,000 tons of wooden pallets, down from 323,000 tons in 2010. This was the first fall in wooden pallet recycling rates since at least 2007 – the first year the report has figures for.

For cardboard, Lowe’s recycled 148,000 tons in 2011, down from 154,000 tons in 2010. A move by manufacturers to increasingly package appliances in Styrofoam and shrink wrap rather than cardboard may have contributed to this drop. Lowe’s stores and distribution centers have recycled more than 4 billion pounds of cardboard and wood since 2006, the report says.

Lowe’s has more than tripled the amount of shrink wrap it recycles, from 834 tons in 2010 to 2,529 tons in 2011. It doubled its shrink wrap recycling rate from 2009 to 2010 and has improved it steadily from 2007 onwards.

Rechargeable battery recycling has improved over 20 percent year-on-year. In 2011 Lowe’s recycled 236 tons of rechargeable batteries, up from 196 tons in 2010. The company recycled 106 tons of such batteries in 2007 and has maintained steady progress in its recycling rates every year since.

The online report does not provide figures for overall water use but it does give some evidence that the retailer is trying to limit its water consumption. Lowe’s has launched a landscape irrigation program, now in place at more than 230 stores, that uses smart irrigation controllers to automatically adjust watering schedules as the local weather changes. A recent analysis revealed that water use at those stores with smart controllers decreased an average of 24 percent, saving more than 12 million gallons a year.

The EPA estimates that WaterSense labeled products sold by Lowe’s in 2011 could save customers nearly $34 million each year off water bills and more than four billion gallons of water annually.

Lowe’s says it is committed to selling sustainably sourced wood. Its wood sourcing database currently tracks 360 suppliers and 11,000 products as it seeks to ensure that all wood products sold in its stores are “harvested responsibly, from well-managed, non-endangered forests,” the report says. Lowe’s sells lumber, millwork and outdoor furniture certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, although the report did not specify what percentage of Lowe’s products are FSC-certified.

The company has donated $6.5 million to The Nature Conservancy since 2005, in an effort to support sustainable forestry.

Earlier this month Lowe’s won an Award for Sustained Excellence as recognition of the thousands of Energy Star-qualified products available across the store.

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