Whole Foods: Alternative Refrigerants and Energy Efficient HVAC Systems


As Whole Foods Market expands their retail footprint, they are committed to growing responsibly by making their stores, facilities, and operations even more energy efficient. Part of this strategy includes investing in alternative refrigerants with lower global warming potentials and installing more energy-efficient HVAC systems. In pursuit of this responsible growth, Whole Foods Market undertook several projects in its brick-and-mortar locations to reduce refrigeration-related emissions of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). 

HFCs are a group of industrial chemicals primarily used for cooling and refrigeration, many of which are powerful greenhouse gases with high global warming potential (GWP). To transition away from HFCs, Whole Foods Market utilized a mixture of new builds and retrofits in its building portfolio. 

Given a variety of factors, retrofits are typically more challenging to keep cost-effective. Retrofits in an active store mean potentially working around customers and risking operational disruptions. Retrofits also often require after-hours work to avoid disrupting store operations, which can lead to higher installation costs. Whole Foods Market addressed these challenges by prioritizing new buildings to implement most of their cooling and refrigeration projects.

A lesson learned from these cooling and refrigeration projects was the importance of a well-trained contracting staff. Securing the right contractor upfront was critical, as well as ensuring that the contractor was up-to-speed on training for installing and maintaining HFC-free refrigeration systems. Securing contractors that are specially trained in servicing low-GWP refrigeration systems is vital to ensuring the systems are installed and maintained properly. Another challenge in these projects was sourcing HFC-free HVAC systems, as these systems are not widely commercially available.

As part of its new build and retrofit projects, 45 Whole Foods Market stores now utilize refrigeration systems that rely on low-GWP refrigerants. In a separate project, an additional 65 Whole Foods Market stores have been retrofitted to use the refrigerant R-448A, which has a GWP approximately 68% lower than legacy HFC refrigerants. Furthermore, a flagship Whole Foods Market store in Brooklyn, New York, has a central refrigeration system that is 100% HFC-free.