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Fresh Food, Clean Energy: The New Brooklyn Whole Foods is a Model of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Kit Kennedy

Posted December 31, 2013 in Curbing Pollution, Green Enterprise, Solving Global Warming

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This morning, I took the ten-minute stroll from my home in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood to the new Brooklyn Whole Foods to pick up some ingredients for a New Year’s feast. The array of fresh produce is amazing, but that’s not all that impressed me. The new store turns out to be a model for how New York City businesses can incorporate energy efficiency and on-site clean, renewable energy to lower their carbon footprints.

Like many New Yorkers, my husband, Matthew, and I are somewhat food-obsessed. Although we’re not raising chickens in our little backyard, as some Brooklynites do, when we’ve got some spare time, we like to cook, often using recipes from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s amazing Jerusalem cookbook. But some of the ingredients can be hard to come by, even in Brooklyn, with its many excellent food shops and stores; you can’t always find chervil or quince at the local supermarket.

That’s one reason the opening of the borough’s first Whole Foods is good news for us Brooklynites. When you need chervil, or quince or dried bayberries, for that matter, you can probably find them at the new Third & 3rd Whole Foods. As one quipster tweeted recently, the opening “is the biggest thing in Brooklyn since beards.”

Gowanus Whole Foods.jpeg

The new Brooklyn Whole Foods is a model for how New York City businesses can incorporate energy efficiency and on-site clean, renewable energy to lower their carbon footprints.

More unexpected is the clean energy good news.  To begin with, the 56,000 square foot structure is 60 percent more energy efficient than the building code requires. That’s right: 60 percent more efficient, making it one of the most energy efficient supermarkets in the nation, Whole Foods says. To achieve this impressive statistic, the store uses an array of efficiency technologies.  It installed a combined heat-and-power system that efficiently produces electricity, heating and cooling, capturing heat from the electricity system that would otherwise be wasted to power machines that chill water, and also provide heat and hot water for the store. The system is designed to keep the store functioning in the event of a utility grid failure, an important post-Sandy resiliency feature. The facility also uses highly efficient and zero-ozone depleting state-of-the-art refrigeration equipment to keep all that beautiful food cold and uses high-efficiency lighting and daylighting to illuminate the store.

That emphasis on energy efficiency makes sense. It’s always the cheapest, quickest, fastest solution to our nation’s energy challenges.

Whole Foods invested as well in some very cool on-site renewable energy features. Among them: 324 kilowatts-worth of solar canopies over the parking lot. That’s not a huge photovoltaic system by today’s standards—a rooftop system five times larger just went up in the Bronx. But it will still supply about 20 percent of the store’s electricity—an impressive figure, to be sure.  

Whole Foods Streetlight.JPG





















Eighteen off-the-grid streetlights, designed by NYC-based Urban Green Energy, illuminate the parking lot. It also has two solar & wind-powered UGE electric vehicle charging stations.

And there’s more: The 18 large street lights in the parking lot are powered by cool, free-standing, combined small-scale wind-and-solar power systems, designed by a Manhattan company: Urban Green Energy. The off-the-grid streetlights—almost 33 feet tall, they look a bit like airborne egg beaters—use UGE’s Hoyi! small-scale vertical-axis wind turbines and small solar panels to generate electricity that’s stored in a battery. Their design allows them to work in the event of a power outage, another resiliency feature. And the street lights themselves are super-efficient LEDs. We tend to think of rural areas as the only setting for wind turbines, so it’s great to see UGE’s innovative smaller-scale wind turbines in use right here in New York City, demonstrating the potential to use wind turbines as an urban renewable energy technology.

The electric vehicle chargers are similarly powered with solar panels and slightly larger UGE vertical-axis turbines. That means Whole Foods customers who charge their EVs while shopping can maximize the potential for EVs to be truly 100% renewable and emissions-free, and also supports New York’s new “Charge New York” program, which seeks to add hundreds of new EV charging stations in New York, helping both to clean the air that we breathe and save New Yorker’s money at the pump. 

Oh, and there’s bike parking too!

Grants from the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority supported some of the new Whole Foods’ renewable energy and energy efficiency technology features. The solar canopies, for instance, received funding from Governor Cuomo’s NY-Sun Initiative. That program, currently funded through 2015, is finally making New York State into a solar leader. With one last push from the Governor, it can continue through 2023, helping to cut solar prices and enable more businesses, institutions and homeowners to install the clean, renewable solar systems that so many New Yorkers want.

Development of the new Whole Foods, as with many big box stores in New York City, was not without controversy. But there are certainly local benefits, including about 300 new jobs, two-thirds of which will go to Brooklyn residents, according to Whole Foods. You can learn more about the sustainability features of the new Whole Foods through this video clip:

But back to the supermarket. The truth is, I’ll probably still do most of my grocery shopping at the Associated market about 50 feet from my house. For convenience, you can’t beat it and the food is good, too. But when the Jerusalem cookbook beckons, and there are no quince to be had at my local store, I’ll feel good that I have the option of patronizing a supermarket that sets a new standard for energy efficiency and serves as a model for use of on-site renewable energy as well. 

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Mark Alan RobinsonJan 2 2014 01:15 PM

Great coverage & commentary, Kit! I was equally impressed with Whole Foods vision for the Store of the Future.

Since 2010, Momentum Bay & GREEN POWER 4 TEXAS have enjoyed distributing & installing Urban Green Energy's wind & solar power generation systems. We've found UGE's onsite energy solutions to be very popular best practices among real estate teams committed to top 25% leadership (e.g., LEED and ENERGY STAR certification), from Texas to Panama and Mexico. And, UGE has provided excellent techical support, when needed, to us as a distributor-partner and to our clients.

Fellow foodie,

Mark Alan Robinson, MBA, LEED, CEM
Houston, Texas

Katherine KennedyJan 2 2014 03:04 PM

Mark, thanks for all your work to scale up clean energy in Texas -- which is, of course, already, the #1 state on wind generation! Keep up the great work! Kit

LarryJan 2 2014 09:08 PM

a place to shop for "quince or dried bayberries"?

The store expects more than a thousand car trips per day. Even if the new “renewable” energy source is equivalent to removing 360 cars from the streets, the desire to buy food from the store will indeed be generating far more car trips on our streets that are currently occurring since most people walk to local shops near where they live.
The planning, specifically the location, of this store is not environmentally friendly because it brings a form of suburban consumption, based on auto travel, to an urban community that is not based around cars. The benefits of organic foods are not worth such a huge step backwards for the environment that this store has imposed on Brooklyn.
You just don’t get to removing those imagined 360 cars from the streets by generating greater need to use a car.

Katherine KennedyJan 2 2014 10:21 PM

Larry, I agree with you that access to and use of public transportation and walkability are key to sustainable urban living. At the same time, clearly some big box stores are coming to NYC, and the Brooklyn Whole Food's use of energy efficency, renewable energy and its renewably-powered electric vehicle chargers all help to reduce its environmental footprint and provide a good model for other urban businesses. While many shoppers will drive there, it is also true that Whole Foods is walking distance from several densely populated Park Slope neighborhoods, close to the Union St. R station and and close to the 5th Avenue bus lines.

Mary AnnJan 3 2014 09:52 AM

I think it's cute that you've been suckered in to the attractive facade of the "green" storefront. The idea that Whole Foods is a green store is a joke. The mere fact that their food is so much more expensive shows that their value chain is far more resource intensive than you would like to believe it is.

Cost and energy efficient are not inversely proportional.

Wake up. It's not about doing whatever makes you "feel good".

Taylor LeydenJan 3 2014 12:12 PM

Great post, Kit! Thank you for recognizing Whole Foods for its commitment to sustainability at its new Brooklyn store.
I work for Solaire Generation, the Manhattan-based company that designed, fabricated, and installed the solar parking canopies for this site. We are honored to be part of such a green-minded project that brings enhanced efficiency and renewable energy production to New York City. We're also excited that Whole Foods incorporated Solaire's canopy-integrated stormwater management system, allowing them to further take advantage of existing natural resources. Hopefully this project will demonstrate to others the benefits of sustainable construction of buildings in NYC, both old and new.

Katherine KennedyJan 3 2014 12:17 PM

Thanks for your comment, Taylor. It's great to learn more about Solaire Generation's important role in the Brooklyn Whole Foods project and the work that it is doing on both renewable energy and stormwater management. It's also great to see more and more green energy companies like Solaire being created or moving to New York City, building the renewable supply chain and creating jobs.

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