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What Can We Learn from Walgreens About Net Zero?

November 25, 2014 | 5 comments

To see how well the concept of net zero energy worked – and to test green technologies and initiatives for its 8,100+ stores – Walgreens invested in a net zero energy retail store.

Located in Evanston, IL, this 14,000-square-foot retail facility opened in November 2013. It is expected to receive LEED Platinum certification, as well as Net Zero Energy Certification through the Living Building Challenge. The facility has already received the U.S. EPA’s GreenChill platinum certification.

Although Walgreens hasn’t announced when (or if) other net-zero stores will follow, it has already taken several of the most impactful water- and energy-saving projects used in the Evanston, IL, store and rolled them out across portions of its U.S. portfolio. Some of these conservation measures include:

  • Changing out 28-watt T8 fluorescents for 25-watt models
  • Installing doors on open-front coolers
  • Ground-source heat pump programs
  • LED lighting and daylight harvesting
  • Energy management systems

Walgreens’ net zero energy project also teaches us a few interesting lessons about the concept of net zero energy buildings.

Lesson #1: Net zero energy is possible in a variety of climates
Walgreens’ net zero energy store is located in Evanston, IL, which experiences all four seasons.  A solar photovoltaics array and twin wind turbines are installed on the site to take advantage of year-round sun and wind. Not only do the solar and wind power cover energy usage for the retail, but they also generate excess electricity. The store was projected to use 200,000 kilowatt hours a year while generating 220,000 kilowatt hours per year. But onsite generation of renewable energy is exceeding these projections.

Lesson #2: Going net zero may cost more money upfront
Senior management reports that the cost of building the new store was about twice the cost of building a traditional Walgreens store; however, they expect to recover those costs from reductions in energy usage, as well as tax credits and utility rebates.

Lesson #3: You don’t have to invest in completely new building materials to achieve net zero energy
Walgreens did raze an old store at the Evanston, IL, site in order to build the new net zero energy facility, but it reused more than 85% of the razed building’s materials (concrete, metal, brick, etc.).

Have you ever considered net zero energy for your commercial building? Why or why not?


  1. George I Hopkins
    November 30, 2014

    Forget about all the silver/gold/platinum plaques & think about the bottom line. MORE PROFITS
    Now build out the parking with food production, water collection /treatment & resale and more energy for additional retail sales.
    Natural non GMO product lines will be large profit centers. already have the land now utilize it to the max….even add mini living quarters…think outside the box.

  2. Marty Walters
    November 30, 2014

    Net zero doesn’t have to cost twice as much as conventional buildings up front. The NREL net zero energy facility proved that.
    Walgreens ignored the first rule of energy efficient design: reduce the building energy load through passive means. They employed an oversize solar system ,and a less than optimal insulation configuration in the thermal mass walls. What they achieved is more akin to net zero at any cost than cost neutral net zero. They got an award for it from the DOE, which does not exactly set the best example.

  3. Vista
    December 1, 2014

    Marty, thanks for your feedback! We appreciate the information. Very interesting!

  4. David Eldridge
    December 7, 2014

    Marty, I disagree with you about the Walgreens approach ignoring passive approaches…full disclosure I didn’t have any involvement with the project, but have been fortunate enough to tour the facility several times.

    The building includes many strategies to reduce the lighting energy use, as well as strategies to reduce heat gain through the glazing systems.

    Including closed refrigerated cases may have the largest effect on reducing the building’s loads.

    Then, after reducing these heat gains the facility uses a heat recovery loop to provide heating to the building from the refrigeration system and geo-exchange piping to further reduce energy use.

    NREL’s facility (also impressive) had an advantage where a solar PV array was located on nearby parking areas (and which cost I don’t believe was included in the $288/sf) – the energy use of the NREL facility was still 35 kBtu/sf/year before including the parking lot solar energy.


    The Walgreens store doesn’t have access to space for a remote PV installation, therefore the building itself did have a configuration to support the necessary PV to offset the energy use of the building, including the refrigeration system. This is why you’ll see the taller than usual walls — although this certainly increases heating and cooling load, this was a conscious trade-off in order to maximize the PV production which is needed due to the refrigeration system.

  5. Vista
    December 8, 2014

    David, thanks for adding to the conversation. Your points are very helpful – especially in regards to the taller exterior walls!

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