First published in Fresh Thinking June 2015
People ask me all the time if the EPA is ever going to get off their backs about the refrigerant they use. My answer is always the same: The only way that will happen is if the industry stops using refrigerants that harm the environment.
For the first time since the EPA started regulating refrigerants in supermarkets, it is possible for a supermarket to operate using 100% natural refrigerants. With the use of CO2, we have a refrigerant that is safe for the ozone layer and for our climate.
The EPA’s refrigerant regulations for supermarkets were originally intended to reduce the harm that these refrigerants did to the earth’s ozone layer. More recently, the regulations have been used to minimize the global warming impact of refrigerants used in supermarkets. However, refrigerants that help the ozone layer are very potent greenhouse gases, so many grocers fear they are just substituting one environmental problem for another. And more importantly for some, this means that they are doomed to an endless cycle of EPA-mandated refrigerant phase-outs in the future.
There is only one way to be sure that you won’t ever have to go through another refrigerant phaseout: Use natural refrigerants in your store. The natural option that most people are turning to is CO2. Why? Because it’s a good option.
Besides the advantages that have been documented in hundreds of stores throughout the world, as well as the low cost of the CO2 refrigerant, the refrigerant has other pluses. What is the financial value of future-proofing your business against yet another refrigerant phaseout? How much is it worth to not have to worry about Section 608 compliance in a store that uses CO2?
Though it’s hard to say what an average phase-out and the resulting retrofits cost a company, it’s safe to say that it is usually in the millions. If you have enough stores, it can easily be in the hundreds of millions.
The value of not having to worry about Section 608 inspections in your store is more a question of peace of mind, rather than an actual quantifiable monetary savings. Let’s face it, you’ll probably continue to keep refrigerant leak records on your CO2 stores because that is a part of good financial management. But don’t underestimate the value of peace of mind. It’s hard to even imagine what it’s like to not worry about EPA compliance. Regulations have been in place for decades, so a good percentage of people in the refrigeration industry today have never experienced a world free of worries about Section 608.
We can’t retrofit our way out of the world’s refrigerant problem. The only way to solve the problem is by building stores that use refrigerants that don’t cause these environmental problems.
Yes, it’s true that if we rely on new store construction to solve the problem, it will take several decades for existing stores that use harmful refrigerants to reach the end of their lifespan. But we can’t continue to use the same harmful refrigerants forever. And in the grand scheme of EPA phaseouts, 20-30 years is not a long time.