BC Hydro teams up with Sears to promote home efficiency

Nina Winham


Organic cotton bed sheets. Duvets filled with fluffed polyester made from recycled pop bottles. Recycled-cotton blue jeans. Furniture with environmentally-friendly coatings and FSC certified wood.

Confronted with shopping choices like these, you might assume you were in a funky alternative shop catering to the in-the-know eco crowd. You might not guess you were shopping one of Canada's oldest and largest retail chains: Sears Canada.

"We officially launched the "Live Green at Sears" program during Earth Hour this year," says James Gray-Donald, Sustainability Leader of Sears Canada. "As a retailer, one of the things we can do is to encourage people to understand how to make their purchasing decisions better, to make it easy for them to be green. It complements the other things we're doing in sustainability, which include reducing our own footprint in our operations, and nurturing a culture of sustainability through community engagement."

Which is why you'll find Sears partnered with BC Hydro at the upcoming Vancouver Home + Interior Design Show to promote the most efficient of home appliances — items that save energy and save you money.

Good, better, best

For years, ENERGY STAR® — a label that identifies good energy performance — has been the standard for those seeking to buy almost anything that uses electricity, from televisions to washing machines to ceiling fans. Gray-Donald says technology keeps improving, so Sears has worked to help customers identify an even higher level of efficiency when shopping.

"We found about 70% of the appliances we sell are ENERGY STAR. So our salespeople, and the majority of our customers understood the value of it," says Gray-Donald. "Once they knew a product was ENERGY STAR, they would move on and focus on features that weren't energy related. Sears wanted its sales people to continue the conversation and say, 'Not all ENERGY STAR products are built equal, and some of them will save you more money than others.'"

To help customers identify the best environmental choices, Sears now places its own eco symbols on products that offer features relating to a healthy home, saving water, renewable resources and energy efficiency. The last one highlights products that conform to standards set out by the Super Efficient Home Appliances Initiative of the Consortium of Energy Efficiency which works to promote the super-efficient end of the ENERGY STAR spectrum of appliances.

"For example, an ENERGY STAR washing machine has to be 40% better [more energy efficient] than industry standard, which is great," says Gray-Donald. "However there are actually machines that can save you substantially more on your energy consumption. Instead of using in the range of 300-400 kWh of electricity per year, they use about 150."

Gray-Donald says Sears' sales staff discuss these options with customers as a "good, better, best" range of choices. An appliance with no energy rating will do the job it's supposed to do. An ENERGY STAR appliance will do the job, save you money on electricity and help reduce your environmental footprint. An eco-labeled appliance will save you the most — and take your home even further towards greener living.

The demonstration suite at the Vancouver Home Show will display energy efficient Kenmore appliances including a range (with induction cooktop), fridge, dishwasher, and washer, and a Samsung LED TV — all with the Sears eco label.

Save money... and more

"If you replace an old top-loading washer with an efficient front-loader, our estimates show consumers can save about $130-$170 per year in electricity and water costs," says Gray-Donald. "For us as a retailer, there are also some lifestyle benefits that families enjoy from efficient appliances. For example, front-loaders are softer on your clothes, so you get less wear and tear. They have a much better spin cycle, so you save money and time on drying, since your clothes don't have to dry as much.

Gray-Donald says it's important to get people to think about the appliances in their home. "Consumers get plenty of encouragement to change their light bulbs, but that's a very small piece of the pie," he says. "Heating and cooling represents 50-65% of average home energy use, and appliances use another 10-20%. So upgrading your furnace and adding some insulation to your home can have a drastic effect on your energy bills."

Since customers have a hard time translating energy efficiency into dollars saved, Sears has created a cost and carbon calculator that compares your current appliance with an energy efficient new one. You can use the calculator at the BC Hydro Power Smart kiosks located in many Sears stores, or online — just click on the "calculate your savings" option on the home page for each category of appliance (i.e. find washing machines here).

"Our estimate is that the average Canadian household could reduce their energy use by 50% using existing technology," says Gray-Donald. "I would go further to say that many of those energy improvements would pay for themselves over their lifetime. We generally see that upgrading your furnace will pay for itself in eight years or less. Replacing a fridge that dates from before 1980 will payback within five years." Providing customers with information like this is part of the reason Sears has been chosen as the ENERGY STAR retailer of the year for three years in a row. And with BC Hydro rebates on select ENERGY STAR appliances, you save even more.

So if you're visiting the Vancouver Home + Interior Design Show, stop by the BC Hydro booth to ogle the latest styles in high-efficiency appliances (candy apple red for your washer, anyone?). While you're at it, you can pick up a copy of the new Sears Eco-Catalogue and check out those organic cotton bedsheets.

"We've had good feedback on our Live Green at Sears program at different shows and launch events," says Gray-Donald. "Some folks are Sears customers, and they're pleasantly surprised. Then there are folks who haven't been Sears customers, who do a double take and want to know what we're doing about sustainability. Then we get a few folks who are initially skeptical. We acknowledge that we're at the beginning of a journey. This isn't our final state and we haven't got it perfect, but we are making significant progress. Once they look deeper, they can see what we're trying to do."

Source: BC Hydro News