By Lorrie Baumann
When Rob Wilson drove up to his office in West Caldwell, New Jersey, on June 8, he took a few minutes to look up at the rooftop of Gourmet Foods International’s Northeast Distribution Center and smiled. Then he hustled inside to prepare for the ceremony in which the ribbon would be cut and he’d flip the switch on a brand new solar array.
The decision to install solar came from the McCall family, which owns GFI. “As a family company, we have always considered future generations in our decisions. This is no different,” says Brewster McCall, adding “Now more than ever, it is critical for national companies to take a strong moral lead on environmental issues. We are looking to expand clean energy technologies in our distribution centers across the country.”
Once the decision was made to install the new solar panels, it took almost a year to make it happen, starting with a permitting process and the engineering to ensure that the building’s roof could support the array and even including a check to ensure that the rooftop array wouldn’t interfere with the flight path of aircraft using the small Essex County airport that’s just about a quarter of a mile down the road. “We actually went to the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] to be sure it was okay to put these panels in,” Wilson said. “We paid attention to every detail, and rightly so.”
The solar project will provide benefits for GFI customers as well. By diversifying the company’s energy portfolio, the national specialty food supplier will reduce electricity costs a minimum of 30 percent, allowing potential cost savings to be passed on to its customers.
More than 500 panels across the distribution center’s entire roof will power all of the company’s operations at its 50,000 square-foot facility with clean, renewable energy. “This is a very big celebration for our company,” Wilson said as he was making final preparations for the big day. “We’re so excited and proud of this. We’re having the ribbon-cutting, followed by our entire team celebrating over lunch.”
The moment that the switch is flipped to pull the building’s energy from the solar array will mark the success of what is just the company’s most recent accomplishment in support of GFI’s total commitment. “We take social responsibility as a core value of our company. This decision to use solar energy is part of that core value,” Wilson said. “The solar project exemplifies the GFI commitment to sustainability, whether it is solar energy, recycling, use of biodiesel trucks or supporting local, eco-friendly artisans that create the great products we are privileged to provide…. It really is a great event for our company and a statement for our industry.”
The solar array will, in addition to generating energy, produce no greenhouse gas emissions. Over the expected 20-year life span of the array, it will eliminate CO2 emissions that are the equivalent of planting 151,497 trees or reducing driving by more than 13 million car miles. It’ll displace the carbon dioxide emissions for the annual electricity use of 737 homes, and it’ll prevent the burning of more than 6 million pounds of coal. “This is something we are very proud of as well,” Wilson said. “It’s clean energy and totally inexhaustible. It’s nonpolluting and doesn’t emit greenhouse gases.”
GFI is also proud to be supporting jobs for the American workers who built the solar panels. “Our panels are made in the United States. It was a very important part of the decision process. That’s another of our core values – taking care of our team members by supporting the domestic economy as well as the environment,” Wilson said. “It’s really about giving back. It’s about taking care of everyone and everything through a sincere commitment to what is just and fitting, and that is the GFI culture”.