YOU PROBABLY don’t notice it, but on a
typical midday in a Costco warehouse very
few ceiling lights are on. The buildings are
designed with enough skylights to light the
interior, and light-sensitive controls automatically turn off the overheads when the sky
provides enough brightness.
Called “daylight harvesting,” the system
is a simple yet important example of the
many steps taken in the warehouses to lessen
their impact on the environment. Other
efforts are designed to reduce the amount of
waste generated by the warehouses, recycle
everything from cardboard to chicken grease
and use smarter packaging to decrease truck
These are all environmentally smart programs, but in truth they have been employed
at Costco for years as measures to reduce
operating costs. In other words, at Costco the
concept of green applies to the environment—and to money.
“We have been doing these things because
they were efficient and bring cost reductions,”
says Karen Raines, Costco’s director of corporate sustainability. “And now we’re finding
out they’re also green.”
What’s new is that Costco is aggressively
pursuing more ways of reducing the warehouses’ impact on the environment. Here’s a
look at the highlights.
makes sense at Costco
sumption by about 5 percent, says Craig.
The warehouses are also finding they can
significantly reduce water consumption by
using new fixtures. For example, the Costco
in Grandview, British Columbia, recently
installed low-flow spray valves in sinks
throughout the warehouse. It was found that
the new nozzles use about 48 percent less
water than standard valves. Now, new building specs include these water-saving valves.
a top priority
Operating nearly 400 warehouses in the
United States requires a tremendous amount
of energy— 1. 9 billion kilowatts last year, to
be exact. Several programs reduce energy
requirements in the warehouses.
The most visible is solar panels on warehouse roofs. Costco installed the first panels
in 2006; today, more than a dozen warehouses in Hawaii and California have them
and more are being added every year. These
systems can reduce overall electricity requirements by about 20 percent.
“We’re doing this primarily because it’s
the right thing to do, but also because it
makes financial sense,” says Craig Peal, a
Costco assistant vice president who oversees
All new refrigeration, air-conditioning
and lighting systems in the buildings are high-efficiency units that minimize energy usage.
Older buildings are being upgraded with
more efficient equipment. A recent tune-up
of lighting and air-conditioning control systems in 350 warehouses reduced energy con-
in the buildings
Each Costco warehouse generates tons of
waste each week, in the form of cardboard,
plastic, unusable produce and more. Much of
it is kept out of local landfills through a variety of efforts.
All cardboard and plastic wrap is baled
in the warehouses and recycled. This year,
that will total some 240,000 tons of material.
Recyclable paper and plastic are both sold as
commodities, so keeping them out of landfills makes smart business sense, says Todd
Fitzgerald, Costco corporate recycling and
Another big source of waste is produce—as much as 1. 5 tons a week per
warehouse. Costco is testing programs
in several buildings to keep this produce out of landfills by paying composting companies to pick it up, for
a rate lower than what garbage
companies charge. For example, in
Palm Springs, California, two
warehouses are sending the waste
produce to a worm farm, where it
is composted into mulch.
The trimmings from meat and
grease from Costco’s rotisserie
chickens are also reusable. These
wastes have traditionally gone
to rendering companies,
which make them into animal feed and other products.
But now, biofuel producers
in some regions have started
buying the meat trimmings
and chicken grease.
the clamshell packages, which hold everything from cosmetics to calculators, with
packages that use paperboard and PET plastic. The clamshell packages have PVC plastic,
which isn’t readily recyclable, while paperboard and PET plastic are.
In many cases, products and their packages can be designed to be greener. For example, by making square plastic milk bottles,
224 gallon-size bottles can now fit on a pallet,
compared to 210 round bottles. It doesn’t
sound like a lot, but spread out to all warehouses, the larger pallet count saves 521 truck
trips to the warehouses per year, eliminating
fuel usage and exhaust emissions. The same
approach is being applied to dozens of products, from laundry detergent to nuts.
Costco is committed to shrinking its carbon footprint in real, sustainable ways, tap-
such as these on
the Costco warehouse
in Kauai, Hawaii,
tap sunlight to help
Costco is examining virtually every product in the warehouses with this question: Can
the packaging be smarter?
The answer is often yes. For example,
buyers are working with suppliers to replace
ping the same innovative spirit that has
helped the company be successful, says Karen.
“We’re doing what we’ve always done, by trying to be efficient and cost-effective on
things,” she says. “But we’re also looking at
where we can do a better job.” C