Ariz. distribution center a model of sustainability

Given its stated commitment to environmental stewardship and green practices, retail co-op Recreational Equipment Inc. went all out in designing its new distribution center.

Rather than just throwing in extra insulation and adding a bike rack, the co-op, better known as REI, designed an eco-friendly showplace that incorporates solar panels, recycling systems and water conservation features both inside and outside the building, reports DC Velocity.

The facility, which opened in July, is in the Phoenix suburb of Goodyear, Ariz., and complements REI's existing distribution centers in Sumner, Wash., and Bedford, Pa. It was designed using the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards.

REI officials said they hope the project will earn LEED platinum certification, the top rating.

Founded in 1938 by a group of 23 mountain climbing buddies, REI is a national outdoor retail co-op whose mission is to inspire, educate, and outfit members for a lifetime of outdoor adventures and stewardship. The co-op, which boasts six million members, operates 148 retail stores across the country and runs a healthy online business selling gear for hiking, climbing, cycling, snow sports, and the like. It is also heavily involved with organizations that promote environmental stewardship.

"Sustainable operations are part of REI's ethos," says Rick Bingle, the co-op's supply chain vice president. "The Goodyear facility was envisioned from day one to be sustainable."

One of the project's goals was to reduce the building's energy consumption. After all, energy is among the greatest expenses in a distribution center — particularly in Arizona, where it can be costly to cool a large building. To power the 400,000-square-foot facility sustainably, REI installed 280,000 square feet of solar panels on its roof.

The system is rated to produce 2.2 megawatts of electricity when the sun is shining — roughly the amount required to power 390 homes in Phoenix — though it actually produces slightly more. The solar panels have a return on investment of five years, but REI expects them to last 25 years, which would translate to about 20 years of free electricity at the facility.

REI's solar array produces more than it consumes in a year, making the building a "net-zero" energy facility. It uses the public electric grid as a "continuous battery" by sending power to the grid during the day and pulling it back at night.

The design teams originally calculated that four megawatts would be needed to power the building. But when it became clear that the solar panels wouldn't be able to generate that much electricity, the teams worked to reduce consumption wherever possible to get below the 2.2-megawatt threshold. "Everything done inside the building was designed to reduce electricity usage and heat creation," Bingle said.

For example, a traditional facility of this size in a desert climate would need about 100 rooftop air conditioning units. On top of that, it would require a great deal of water—a valuable commodity in this region—to cool the units. REI's facility, by contrast, uses only four units cooled with a closed-water evaporative system.

Not only does this minimize the amount of electricity required, but the closed system also saves over 1 million gallons of water each year versus comparable systems.

The office area of the building was also engineered to create what the company calls "micro climates." Many of the offices are equipped with climate-controlled chairs, known as Hyperchairs, that incorporate individual fans and heating elements that allow workers to adjust their temperatures without affecting the rest of the office space. The chairs' temperature can be adjusted on control pads built into the chairs, or via Bluetooth and a smartphone app.

LED lights that illuminate parts of the building operate on occupancy motion sensors, so they shut off when no workers are present. In addition, skylights were strategically positioned over the main travel paths and over mezzanines to allow natural sunshine to brighten the work areas.

In a desert environment like Goodyear's, water may be the most precious resource. So it's no surprise that REI's new facility was built with an emphasis on water conservation. Besides choosing an air conditioning system that minimizes water consumption, REI took a number of other steps to conserve water wherever possible throughout the building. For instance, restrooms feature no-water urinals and low-flush toilets.

That thinking even carried through to the building's landscaping. Working in conjunction with the Phoenix Botanical Garden and other environmental groups, REI designed an outdoor space that's unusual for a logistics facility. It includes a walking trail that features native desert vegetation with the kinds of signage typically found in a botanical garden. The signs describe the plants, why they were chosen for the garden, and how they help the co-op meet its sustainability objectives.

REI chose vegetation that is drought-tolerant and requires little watering. An underground drip irrigation system provides what little water is needed. Underground irrigation is considered far more efficient than aboveground sprinkling systems, where water would quickly evaporate under the hot Southwestern sun.

 


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