Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=226990
Story Retrieval Date: 11/25/2014 10:00:42 PM CST

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Sarah Kollmorgen/MEDILL

Wind turbines and solar panels add to the energy that makes the Walgreens on Chicago Avenue in Evanston at net zero power user.


Putting the green in Walgreens at new energy-efficient store

by Sarah Kollmorgen
Jan 23, 2014


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Sarah Kollmorgen/MEDILL

Two wind turbines supplying power mark the store's location.

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Sarah Kollmorgen/MEDILL

The cold weather has forced the net-zero Walgreens in Evanston to run its energy system at full capacity.

A winter of “polar vortexes” and historically cold temperatures might not seem like the best time to begin testing a building’s heating system. However, the newly opened net-zero Walgreens store in Evanston is powering through its first few months in operation, with engineers finding and fixing system kinks despite the bone-chilling cold. 


“We couldn’t get the store warm [on a few days],” said Jamie Meyers, the Walgreens manager of sustainability. “This weather has been challenging to us.”

Meyers said this winter’s prolonged and extreme cold has forced the store to run at maximum capacity. Because of this, workers have been able to uncover and fix problems in the operation of the store sooner than if the store ran at half capacity. “We can find out right away what are the weaknesses in the system,” said Meyer.

Walgreens believes this is the first retail store in the nation to be net zero, meaning the store produces more energy than it consumes. The net-zero store opened on 635 Chicago Ave., in Evanston last November, using renewable resources and energy-saving technology such as wind turbines, solar panels, geothermal heating and LED lighting.

Earlier this month the store completed a report examining how the store is running and whether anything needs to be improved. Usually Walgreens finishes these reports before a store opening, but a strict opening date and the holiday season prolonged the net-zero store’s report until afterwards.

A few noted weaknesses include trouble warming the store and a couple malfunctioning valves. However, Meyers is upbeat: “If these are the only problems we have, then this is a resounding success.”

Walgreens officials also note that they would not open the store if a problem arose that would be harmful to customers.

Despite these speed bumps, the Evanston community seems pleased with the results.

“I think people are very excited about having it here in Evanston,” said architect Nate Kipnis, of Citizens’ Greener Evanston, a local environmental group. He believes green technology in action will help spread ideas about energy efficiency. Kipnis said having the Walgreens in town has nearly doubled the number of solar panels in Evanston. “It’s a good feather in our green cap here in Evanston,” he said.

Catherine Hurley, sustainable programs coordinator for Evanston’s Office of Sustainability, echoed this sentiment. “They’ve kind of broken the barrier on the thinking of what’s possible and not possible,” she said. “Public response has been super positive.”

Despite the warm welcome from Evanston, Meyers cautions that there are no plans from the Walgreens headquarters in Deerfield to build more net-zero stores in the immediate future.

“We really need to operate this store for at least a year to really make sure it [remains] net zero,” he said. Instead, Meyers compared the Evanston Walgreens to a model home, where the company could test all their energy-efficient technology in one location to determine what to apply to new and existing stores.

For example, Meyers said Walgreens soon will be using LED lighting in all of its stores due to success in Evanston.

Locals should keep their eyes on the store in the next few months, as the store waits to become officially LEED [Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design] certified, the ultimate recognition of green buildings.

Meyers recommends interested individuals visit the Evanston store and check out a large energy monitor in the front of the building. The monitor shows the store’s energy production and consumption levels. He said now that the days are becoming longer, customers will be able to see the increase in the production of solar power. “The next couple months will be really exciting,” he said.