Where Will HVAC/R Be in 2030?
This week in Dallas, a group of industry leaders assembled to meet and review the past year, to plan for the future and to reacquaint each other with projects, perspective, concerns and opportunities. The Food Marketing Institute is a group of grocery leaders that run the food retail companies all across the US. The Energy and Store Development Conference, known commonly as E+Sd, brings together engineers, facilities and design members of this community. The group of people in this show are responsible for the designs, safety, conditions and quality for every grocer in the US. It’s also important that grocers large and small attend, yet the entire show can be held in one hotel – simply amazing.
Grocery & Supermarket companies are at the heart of most communities. They have an enormous footprint in our neighborhoods, and one of the largest impacts on our economy and environment. Trakref®️ attends because in that one hotel, every year when they get together to talk, they strategize about how to best handle the emerging and challenging set of HVAC/R Regulations that impact every aspect of energy, food quality, storage and safety. It’s the only focused approach. No other group devotes this much attention to the topic, and we are right at the center of issue to share, learn and help guide the discussion about the best path to compliance.
The theme this year was “Breaking Ground and Building Opportunities”. The opening speech was from an amazing speaker that got us all up out of our seats, and reminded us that we needed to “fear less and do more”. Michelle Poler, Ted Talk alum and founder of Hello Fears, will have a book out next year titled Hello, Fears: Crush Your Comfort Zone and Become Who You're Meant to Be. Everyone at the event was talking about the fact that as we are all being asked to do more things differently and quicker than ever before, we now need to be able to embrace a culture of change. We need to challenge our comfort zones in order to achieve growth and lead with accountability. Michelle’s funny and entertaining presentation was a story based on her own challenge to live without fear for 100 days, and the results from that journey.
This set us up for the primary theme, which was presented by Michael Sansolo, a seasoned, smart and equally entertaining expert from the Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council (CCRRC) His talk “Rising to the Challenge of the Supermarket’s Future” covered the impact topic on everyone’s mind - what will food retail look like in 2030? His focus was on a study funded by The Coca-Cola Company that looks out 10 years into the future, and makes some predictions about what your shopping experience might look like. As you can imagine the forecast is that things will be more connected. There won’t be any checkout lines, stores will be smaller and the experience will be more personal. It’s a great report that you can check out here. You’ll be missing Michael’s excellent and personal delivery, but you will get a feel for the context and possibilities.
New Options Ahead?
Next we went into break out sessions, where we learned about energy efficiency opportunities, new materials and possible technology options that will be in use as we approach 2030. But surprisingly, everyone agreed that all of the future options and visionary potential that may be greeting us in 10 years relied on technology, tools and resources that are available today! So this show was only scratching the surface - we all know there is more.
Hundreds of seasoned experts talked about new grocery options such as online shopping, Amazon Go, and experiential shopping environments like Harris Teeter, Wegmans, Vallarta, Cardenas and Hy-Vee Grocers. Michael Sansolo made the point that some of the most advanced predictions from 10 years ago included concepts like Amazon Go, where shopping no longer requires a check-out. The entire process is automated using technologies that take over much of the purchase, checkout, and payment steps of the transactions. On the customer side the process relies on smartphone apps, geofencing technology. On the back end, there are advanced supply chain and inventory management innovations.
GreenChill is a voluntary program that was developed by the EPA, to work with grocers to build a community of knowledge that helps all the participants develop best practices to reduce refrigerant leak rates and improve performance. Each member of the group sets environmental goals, and then they work hard to meet their goals over the coming year. Members (often competitors) can even work together to collaborate on how to make improvements year over year, because the EPA becomes an information clearing house of the best ideas to make improvements. The EPA hosted an awards breakfast where members all send representatives to collect prizes, take pictures, and most importantly, go over the statistics related to the past year’s results. The GreencChill program is promoted as a “you have a friend at EPA” program, but in all reality, it’s an amazing forum for grocers that are normally competing to exchange ideas in a non-threatening environment that benefits their stores and the environment, and improves the entire industry. Kudos to EPA for being so progressive. These voluntary programs are proving to be a huge success.
One of the stories to come out of this year’s awards program was the retirement of the program’s Director, Tom Land. Tom was not the first program administrator, but he did a great job growing the number of participating stores. As a 33 year veteran of the EPA, Tom has spent the last 25 years working in the Clean Air Division, where he served in many roles. His departure represents an opportunity for Greenchill to embrace new leadership under Kirsten Capell, a smart, energetic, capable, and seasoned expert. We look forward to Kirsten’s involvement, and to supporting her success as the industry moves toward embracing new challenges developing at the Federal and state levels. We wish Tom all the best after 38 years of service to the US government. He was even a Peace Corp member for 5 years. All of us have benefited from his dedication and commitment.
We Need More Technicians
It was apparent right away that massive consolidations are taking place at the Service/Maintenance Contractor level, where huge sums of money are being invested to buy up as many contractors as possible. The overt goal is the same everywhere, buy up your competitors, acquire their service people and broaden your footprint so they can improve efficiency and meet the demands of large multi-facility grocers. Grocers want fewer, better managed vendors and they are gravitating away from smaller operations toward more institutional Service Providers like CoolSys, Climate Pros and DEEM. The struggle everyone faces as the growth occurs is that the industry still lacks skilled tradespeople to perform maintenance needs. I even heard one guy talk about how his recruiting efforts included stopping in people’s yards when he saw them doing work on their cars, then asking them to join their in-house apprentice program with the assumption that if they are mechanically minded they could get a great job in an industry that needs their talents badly. And the thing is, looking back 10 years to 2009, we were having the same conversation about the lack of technicians.
Regulations are driving engagement. We got that wrong 10 years ago...
Regulations are a big part of the discussions at FMI, and these meetings are often the most heavily attended. 10 years ago the regulations and policies were being driven by EPA at the Federal level, and every intellectual resource available in the grocery sector was being applied to the Federal needs. Manufacturers of equipment and gasses as well as grocers and suppliers of all kinds were deputized to contribute ideas and join committees that reviewed possible policy options. Today that is no longer the case in spite of the fact that the policy drivers affecting grocers is in the midst of a massive shift that will likely define the regulations that will guide us to and through 2030. States via new environmental and mechanical regulations, as well as local building codes driven by the needs of state agencies, are playing a bigger and bigger role in shaping the policies that impact all HVAC/R equipment owners and servicers. Groups like the US Climate Alliance (with 25 states as members) as well as associations such as AHRI, ASHRAE and ICC are beginning to pay attention. They are convening meetings in states like California, New Jersey, and New York to define the safety, environmental and mechanical guidelines. In 10 years, states will have a more significant impact on how your grocer designs and builds stores than the Federal government does.
We did get one thing right 10 years ago. Regulations now affect every aspect of HVAC/R ownership, and in 10 years regulations will reach beyond material usage and service needs and will impact placement, application, and most importantly, safety!
Changes are Coming
Perspective is key. With the GreenChill leadership change, combined with the group goals of looking ahead, it made sense for us this week to look back briefly and ask “In 2009, where did we expect to be in 2019?” I have pointed out a few key look-backs already, but the one aspect of this transition that required some pause was the change in people.
In 2009, the economy was terrible and grocers were talking about credit card swipe machines for payments. We were planning for the transition from R-22 to 404a and discussing emerging carbon regulations and their impact on costs, operations and store design. Amazon was buying Zappos (shoes before food). Everyone was debating Walmart’s meteoric growth as a grocer, and only 20% of Target’s 1,750 locations had grocery items. Most of the faces from 2009 are gone and so many new ones are replacing them.
So where did everyone go? What happened to all the people telling us what to expect back then? Most have retired, some left their posts and moved to new industries, a few didn’t embrace change and chose to leave, but the key here are the new faces. None of the new people are constrained by the history that got us here, which seemed to create an interesting balance between risk-averse seasoned veterans and new people open to new ideas.
Moving Fearlessly Into the Future
So Back to Michelle Poler...
Earlier in the week she taught us to worry less about what others thought of us (hence the show-stopping audience participation dance number) and to learn to take more risks. Fear has its place, but it has to be managed. If we don’t embrace change we may not be one of the faces in the room in 10 years to see this transition through to the end.
Trakref®️ has been at the leading edge of the regulatory transition since 1994, and we have embraced a simple use of technology to solve many of the challenges. We remain behind the scenes protecting grocers and empowering them to remain focused on their core duty of selling groceries. We proudly accept our silent but influential role of helping grocers to meet their compliance needs and improve efficiency. We look forward to working hand in hand with the emerging class of newcomers through 2030 and beyond to reduce leak rates and bring awareness to the issue of refrigerant’s impacts on profitability and sustainability. Have questions? Click the chat box below, or call us at (615) 834-0233.
Want a copy of Michelle Poler's upcoming book Hello, Fears: Crush Your Comfort Zone and Become Who You're Meant to Be? Enter by Monday, September 30th!