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Energy in Store - With green credentials that are second to none, a new food distribution center in the UK is setting world-beating standards for environmentally-friendly buildings.

“Try something new today” is a phrase well known to most shoppers in the UK. It’s the slogan used by Sainsbury’s, one of the country’s biggest supermarket chains. It could also apply to the company’s environmental policy. Over the last few years Sainsbury’s has been trying out new ways of reducing its carbon footprint, successfully introducing a series of measures to reduce emissions and encourage recycling.

The most environmentally-friendly warehouse in the UK

Now, with the recently-opened food distribution center at Pineham in central England, Sainsbury’s has the ultimate energy efficient building. The 49,238m2 warehouse (the size of ten soccer pitches) is the world’s first climate positive building project, setting new standards for environmentally-friendly design and operation of industrial property. Among the innovative features designed to drastically reduce energy and water use and carbon emissions are:


  • solar wall heating
  • photovoltaic panels that generate electricity
  • a recycling unit
  • a power plant that re-uses heat produced by air conditioning
  • energy efficient lighting
  • a rainwater collection system


The distribution center, which can hold almost EUR 50 million worth of fresh food, was built by ProLogis, the leading distribution facilities expert. ProLogis worked closely with Sainsbury’s in order to meet all the company’s environmental requirements.

“It was a joint effort,” confirms Dave Garrity, Sainsbury’s National Facilities Manager. “ProLogis proposed a range of features and we added further benefits. For example, we are committed to recycling the produce trays used in our stores so we needed to have a resource recycling unit (RRU) on the site.” Electricity and heating are provided by a combined heat and power plant (CHP) which also captures secondary or waste heat. This is used to heat harvested rainwater for the washing machines in the RRU – nothing is wasted. Importantly the secondary heat also drives the absorption refrigeration plant.


High energy efficiency with a refrigeration system by GEA Refrigeration Technologies

The whole refrigeration system, which includes the absorption refrigeration plant and mechanical refrigeration, was custom built by GEA Refrigeration Technologies. It fulfils Sainsbury’s need for environmental efficiency by incorporating two different operating conditions – +1.5°C for the chill store and +8°C for the produce store – into a centralized plant operation. Another plus, according to UK Technical Manager Robert Unsworth, is that the refrigeration system uses ammonia, a natural and more efficient refrigerant, rather than any of the myriad man-made refrigerants. “We are supplying more and more efficiency-driven refrigeration systems,” he says. “It is an efficient and climate-friendly way of using waste heat.”

Energy efficiency in all areas

The location of the food distribution center enables Sainsbury’s to supply 100 supermarkets in the area, thereby reducing the mileage for its delivery fleet. Trucks are not normally associated with sustainability and environmental efficiency but Sainsbury’s has thought of that, too. All delivery vehicles have Ad-blue injected in their exhaust systems to cut down on pollution from carbon monoxide. Ad-blue is a non-toxic solution of urea which destroys harmful pollutants in exhaust gases. And, in a first for the UK, the road into the center has a type of weighscale that acts as a linear generator. As the trucks drive slowly over the device, they cause it to move up and down. This motion generates electricity which is transferred to a converter, then into the warehouse. Similar equipment is in use in San Diego and at the busiest check point between the US and Mexican border. “Our Pineham distribution center is the first building of its kind, the most environmentally-friendly warehouse in the UK,” says Garrity. “It certainly uses significantly less energy than comparable sites. Now we are planning to retrofit some of these benefits at our other warehouses.”