In July Midcounties Co-operative opened its most eco-friendly store in the Oxfordshire village of Long Hanborough. It is built on the site of an older, smaller shop backing on to the countryside surrounding Blenheim Palace.
The first thing you notice as you enter the car park is the new signage - Midcounties Co-operative is one of the first societies to adopt the new one-size-fits-all fascia led by The
At first glance the store doesn't look anything out of the ordinary, but a closer look reveals an array of eco-friendly measures, prompting the ethically conscious society to bill it as its greenest store yet.
Externally the building is in keeping with its rural surroundings, incorporating big wooden beams into the structure. Outside, cars drive over what look like ordinary red brick tiles in the car park. However, with no cement between the tiles, the car park doubles as a sustainable surface water drainage system. This channels all the surface water from the car park and from the roof of the building into a pond at the rear of the store. From here it soaks into the earth instead of being retained as part of the water supply system.
The green initiatives continue inside. It looks like a normal c-store, with newspapers and magazines at the front, chilled and frozen sections and stands promoting goods for the upcoming Hallowe'en or Fairtrade products. But behind many of these are energy-saving systems. The chillers are fitted with blinds that automatically come down after closing time. This stops cold air escaping and saves energy.
Next to the chillers are the freezers, which form part of a heat-reclaiming system. The heat produced by the freezers is harnessed and pumped to the rear of the shop, where it is used by the air conditioning unit to heat the store and to warm up the water used by staff in the kitchen.
Energy-efficient lighting is used throughout the store, with the fluorescent tubes using 54 watts instead of the usual 100 watts.
Vic Pratt, Midcounties Co-operative's energy and environment manager, says excessive lighting was a particular bugbear.
"Reducing the energy level with lighting for lower wattage gives us a reasonable level of light, but we're reducing consumption," he says. "I would like to see people getting used to lower lighting levels in the retail environment. It always seems to be so brash. As long as it's bright and you can see clearly what's on the shelves, what's the problem?"
There are also motion detectors in the back rooms that sense when a light needs to be on, preventing lights from being used needlessly.
The move towards greener technology is already paying off, with the store's energy bills 40% lower than other stores of comparable size.
But environmentally friendly measures are not all that this particular Co-op store has up its sleeve. It has also won an award from the police and local authority for design that helps to deter crime.
The site is surrounded by high fences and has a large gate that is closed at night. The store front is entirely constructed of glass with security lights in-store to ensure that anyone inside is visible. Bollards are situated all along the front of the store to prevent ram raids.
Pratt says it was relatively easy to install the measures at Long Hanborough as it was a new build. "We got the approval from the police and local authority for meeting certain criteria in terms of security of the premises and prevention of crime. It's easier to start from scratch than to have to put it all in later."
Pratt says the success at Long Hanborough could see such eco-friendly and crime prevention measures being rolled out to other stores too. "We're looking at moving on from Long Hanborough and taking the specifications and adapting them for other stores to come in the future," he says.