Just Because It’s Difficult Doesn’t Mean We Shouldn’t Try

By Keilly Witman
KW Refrigerant Management Strategy LLC

This is the second article in a three-part series on sustainability and refrigerants.

In part I of my series on communicating about sustainability in refrigeration with consumers, I discussed why it is difficult to make refrigeration relevant to stores’ consumers. Notice I said difficult – not impossible. Just because something is difficult doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be a challenge. And if there is anything we all love in this industry, it’s a challenge.

I received my first lesson in the relevance of supermarket refrigeration to consumers at my very first GreenChill store certification event. I was giving out a gold-level award to a glycol secondary loop store. I was proud. The supermarket company was proud. The store employees were proud. The equipment manufacturer was proud. The people standing in the parking lot listening to the speeches were…bored out of their minds. They just wanted to get into the store to buy their milk.

I was lucky that the equipment manufacturer representative gave his speech before I gave mine. He spoke about all the things that I found fascinating in my new career: reduced charge sizes, low leak rates, glycol on the sales floor instead of thousands of pounds of refrigerant, and easy identification of leaks in the machine room. Babies in carts cried. Mothers became irritated and said, “They’ll be done soon. Knock it off.”

Having had a successful first career in marketing strategy, I used my significant and hard-earned marketing expertise to look around and realize, “This is going to be a lot harder than selling deodorant to people who smell.”

I did my best to change my speech on the fly and spoke about the ozone layer and how important it was that this store had invested in technology that was good for the environment. A few people clapped, probably because I was so overly excited and enthusiastic that they felt sorry for me. The fact that I used every inch of my vocal cords to speak over the traffic on the highway next to us won me an A for effort, I’m sure.

As I drove home I pondered whether there was a way to make consumers care about the harm that refrigerants cause to the environment, and even if there was a way, was it worth the effort?

Though I didn’t convince myself during that trip that the answer to both of those questions was “yes,” I did eventually recognize that, not only was it worth it, it was vitally important that we get this right as an industry.

I have come full circle and now think that we are actually lucky to have sustainable refrigeration as a communication topic. Many other environmental issues require consumers to change their behavior. How many times do you realize at the supermarket cash register that you forgot all your cloth bags in the car again? Or the solution to the problem costs the consumer extra money. How much thought do you put into whether you really want to pay extra for the paper towels that are made from sustainable forests? Or the issue is just downright uncomfortable to speak about in public. Can you imagine trying to talk to consumers about solid waste? If there was ever an environmental issue with an image problem, it’s got to be solid waste. Or the environmental issue has had its heyday and nobody cares anymore. Does anyone ask their car dealer anymore if a new car has a catalytic converter?

Our issue doesn’t require shoppers to change their behavior. It doesn’t cost them extra money, and they get to feel good about doing something about what is touted as the most important environmental issue of today: climate change. Better yet, we actually have solutions to prevent the harmful effects of refrigerants on the environment. This is an issue we can DO something about, as opposed to standing around and talking about it.

So the answer to the question of whether we should communicate with consumers about sustainable refrigeration is a resounding affirmative. The answer to the question of whether we should communicate the same way as we do about plastic bags and sustainable seafood is a hearty no, but that’s the topic of part III of the series.

Given these facts, and given the enormous progress that many supermarket companies have made in reducing the environmental impact of their refrigeration systems, it’s logical to ask why more companies aren’t communicating with their customers about refrigeration.

Keilly Witman is the owner of KW Refrigerant Management Strategy, a consulting firm that helps the supermarket industry manage the many strategic challenges of todays and tomorrows refrigeration world. Prior to starting her own firm, she ran the EPAs GreenChill Partnership, which grew to encompass more than 8,500 supermarkets during her tenure.

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