C-Store Sustainability – Not Just a Buzzword

By Meline Beach

It’s not just a buzzword. Sustainability is a way of life and a conscious factor in what people do and where and how they choose to spend their time, money and attention. Taking action towards sustainable development goals improves your customers’ experience, helps the environment and, ultimately, enhances your reputation and bottom line.

Talin Sivazlian, a millennial and frequent c-store customer from Sudbury, Ontario, intentionally shops at stores that practice good social responsibility. 

“I try to be more aware of where my money is spent and what it supports,” says Sivazlian. “I am more inclined to support the places that make more of an effort to be environmentally conscious. I also bring my own bags everywhere I go.” 

Sivazlian is representative of a customer base interested in reducing their environmental footprint, using resources efficiently and wanting to help protect the planet – a strong customer base that shouldn’t be ignored. As a c-store owner and operator, it’s important to think about social responsibility and how your actions impact the planet and the example you lead for your employees and customers.

“The environment is a very important concern for all of us and we all play a role in protecting our planet,” says Rima Rabba, marketing manager at Rabba Fine Foods. “Keeping environmental sustainability intertwined with our corporate goals and objectives is important to us as individuals and as a company.”

While the thought of saving the planet can be overwhelming, Convenience & Carwash Canada has identified four main sustainable management practices that can make a difference – even small steps can have a big impact on our environment. Here are some ways to get started:

Plastic & Paper

Consider paper or cloth bags for any takeaway items. While Rabba Fine Foods has always offered cloth bags as an option, any sales accumulated from the purchase of plastic bags company-wide are put towards a fundraising budget for community initiatives. 

“We support bigger organizations, such as Trillium Health Partners and the Mississauga Food Bank,” says Rabba. “The proceeds from the sale of plastic bags also goes towards a number of smaller local community groups across our business network.”

Rabba is also pleased to report that they are no longer using non-recyclable packaging in their store. 

“All of our local markets now have recyclable (and re-usable) packaging only,” says Rabba. “This development is fairly new and contributes to our 2021 goal of a complete ban of single-use plastics.”

Another common plastic and environmental concern in the C&G industry are individual windshield washer jugs. Station Lave-Glace, a Quebec-based company has identified a solution to this issue – a central windshield washer station that allows customers to drive up and full up direct from a pump to the vehicle. A first-of-its-kind in North America, this windshield washer station offers a simple, practical and ecological alternative to the traditional plastic jugs. 

“Similar to a gas pump, the windshield washer station has a nozzle that you place directly into the reservoir under the hood of your vehicle,” says Pierre Neron, Quebec inventor. “You just preauthorize an amount and fill it up.” Neron says the cost of the fluid ends up being cheaper than the individual jugs. 

Station Lave-Glace currently has 53 machines in operation at mostly privately-held gas stations across Quebec. At an approximate cost of $9,000 per unit plus electrical installation, C&G owners can recoup their investment based on the volume of fluid sold over time. With high margin potential and months of slushy winter conditions across Canada, it appears to be both a profitable and environmentally-sustainable opportunity.

Paper is also a common form of waste in the C&G channel. Receipt paper is often thrown out or discarded as litter. Nika Mai, owner and operator of an ESSO gas station and Convenience 4U store in Kettleby, Ontario, prefers to reuse the backside of receipt paper as notepads as a means of reducing waste. Another option is to ask the customer if they want their receipt before printing it. Many customers decline the need for a paper receipt which saves paper and ink and reduces any litter on your property.

Another way to reduce paper waste is to install a hand dryer in your washroom and a napkin dispenser in your foodservice area. Both options use less material and minimize litter. 


Energy Usage & Equipment

In 2018, Rabba completed a three-year project that led to the elimination of old electrical light fixtures in favour of energy efficient LED lights. Lighting expert Dave Bowen says this is a good start as many provinces have been offering incentive rebates for the change to LED lighting. Lights on timers, motion detectors and dimming features can also reduce your costs and maximize lighting efficiency. 

As president and owner of Roctan 2000 Ltd., Bowen shares his expertise honed across 45 years of experience in the specialty and lighting industry, the last 22 of which are based on LED lighting technology for the c-store and retail petroleum market.

“Gas stations, car washes and c-stores that have converted to LED technology on their exterior can realize up to 70 per cent savings in energy usage and another 60 per cent for interior LED lighting,” says Bowen, “Canopy and site lighting are top selling products as it shows the highest return on investment and energy savings.” He adds that LED solar technology for site signage is also another energy efficient and cost-saving opportunity.

Bowen is very excited about advancements in solar panel and battery technology as he’s about to introduce a SOLIS/NRG to the market – a new solar LED technology that will be able to power Pylon signage and instore signs – virtually 100 per cent energy-free, with constant illumination and no maintenance required. 

Waste Management & Recycling

Litter is a common environmental concern in the C&G channel. Whether it’s paper, plastic, straws, napkins or cigarette butts, litter attracts more litter. In an effort to reduce litter, Brent Morris, president of Lethbridge based Gas King Oil Co Ltd., ensures they have sufficient trash, ash and recycling bins in and around their building, especially near the gas pumps, vacuum receptacles and car wash bays where people typically clean out their vehicles. Morris outsources trash and recycling pick-up, which occurs on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, depending on the store.

Cigarette receptacles placed within a certain number of feet from the entrance would also deter any littering on the property.

A hole in the counter for a waste bin in your foodservice area makes it also easier for your customers to immediately and properly dispose of any trash.

“Showing pride in ownership by keeping your store and property clean with curb appeal will discourage your customers from spoiling your store’s natural environment,” says Morris.

In relation to food waste, Rabba applies best practices in inventory planning, purchasing and production. 

“We make it a priority to ensure our food is kept fresh and our waste kept to an absolute minimum,” says Rabba. By understanding their customers’ purchasing patterns, Rabba offers the right kind of foodservice that is expected to sell, while producing less but more often to ensure quality and freshness with minimal waste. Rabba adds: “Food waste is handled at the store level and up to the discretion of the manager. For example, some of our managers donate excess food to local homeless shelters or low-income housing units.” 

Communication

Communicating your sustainability development goals and the results you’ve achieved to date is important in an effort build a loyal customer base. Leverage the communication tools on hand, such as printed posters, digital signage and social media. 

Train your employees, as your brand ambassadors and advocates of the environment, to lead by example and share your good efforts. Positive actions breed positive results in changing attitudes and behaviours. By engaging your employees, you’re encouraging their participation and sense of ownership in building a reputable and environmentally-responsible business – which ultimately improves your customers’ experience, helps the environment and enhances your bottom line.

Meline Beach is a Toronto-based communications practitioner and frequent contributor to Convenience & Carwash Canada. In addition to freelance writing, she provides communications and public relations support to businesses across Canada. She can be reached at info@mlbcomms.ca