Last November, Walmart Canada opened up a sustainable perishable food distribution center in Balzac, Canada. The retailing giant spent $115 million to build the 400,000-square-foot DC—a state-of-the-art facility that is an estimated 60 percent more energy-efficient than Walmart’s traditional refrigerated warehouses.
Located about 15 miles north of Calgary, Alberta, the facility is one of Canada’s largest refrigerated buildings and serves as a hub for fresh and frozen food destined for 104 of the company’s stores in western Canada, from Manitoba to British Columbia.
The facility’s environmental features will help Walmart Canada to save approximately $4.8 million in energy costs over five years. One of North America’s most energy-efficient distribution centers, the building is a living lab of sustainability and includes the company’s first full pilots of hydrogen fuel cells, solar thermal and wind power, as well as many other sustainability features and products.
“The facility is helping us meet our ambitious sustainability goals—to generate zero waste, to be powered 100 percent by renewable energy and to sell products that sustain people and the environment,” says Virginia Garbutt, Walmart Canada’s director of strategic network planning and continuous improvement. “In addition, because we’re saving on operating costs, the facility helps Walmart achieve its mission to save people money so they can live better.”
The facility was built and is operated with rigid environmental standards. Many of the features and processes that were incorporated into it will drive down supply chain costs, which supports both revenue growth potential—and Walmart’s belief that environmental and business sustainability can be complementary.
For taking this leadership role in environmental stewardship, and building an innovative first-of-its-kind facility that will serve as an industry-changing model, Walmart Canada has been named the winner of Food Logistics Golden Pallet Award in the large distribution center category.
The Golden Pallet Awards, sponsored by Food Logistics, are the first food industry awards to recognize excellence in warehousing.
The Balzac facility is just one example of Walmart’s many environmental endeavors. The retailer has opened store prototypes in every market that are up to 30 percent more energy efficient. In the past five years, it has cut emissions at existing stores, clubs and distribution centers by 20 percent.
The Balzac facility is the first Walmart DC designed to be environmentally-friendly from the ground up. Key to its success was the collective mindset around sustainability that Walmart Canada shared with its third-party logistics provider, Supply Chain Management (SCM), an Exel company based in Mississauga, Ontario, when they began conceptualizing the project.
Risks Worth Taking
The distribution center, which is owned by Walmart and operated by SCM, was built to support the expansion of Walmart’s Supercentre format. It adds a complete line of groceries, including vegetables and other perishable items, to its traditional general merchandise offerings. It employs 200 full-time and 30 part-time workers and is built to process as many as 130,000 cases per day.
“We were challenged to make this the most sustainable distribution center in the world,” says Garbutt, who lead the team that designed and built the facility. “And we wanted this to be evident through all phases of design and construction—as well as ongoing operations.”
The first step, says Garbutt, was to determine exactly what “sustainability” really meant. “We were a little unclear—we realized that this is not about recycling, even though that’s very important. But we had to change the way we look at things and stretch beyond what we would typically do and once we started, it really took on momentum very quickly.”