REI’s Goodyear facility

The Department of Energy toured REI’s Goodyear facility, and commended it for its energy efficiency. (West Valley View photo by Pablo Robles)

From its solar and cooling systems to the very chairs on which its employees sit, REI’s LEED Platinum distribution center in the West Valley is widely known for its energy and cost-saving solutions.

In fact, the 400,000-square-foot facility is one of the world’s most sustainable distribution centers. So, the Department of Energy (DOE) recognized it for its leadership in energy efficiency late last month.

As a DOE Better Buildings Challenge partner, REI is dedicated to cut its properties’ energy use by at least 20 percent in 10 years, something that places the recreational equipment company’s distribution center in Goodyear that much closer to its main goal: zero energy.

Last year alone, the facility managed an annual energy savings of 18 percent and annual cost savings of $170,000. This achievement is attributed to the building’s design and the many renewable energy and energy- and water-efficiency projects carried out within it.

Much of the facility’s structure is based on the efficiency of the motors, according to Bryan Sakai, REI facility manager.

“What we do is minimize the amount of power that they (the motors) utilize,” Sakai explained.

The motors, powered by an energy management system, only run when they are required to do so. After 15 minutes of inaction, the system automatically goes to sleep.

“Typically, that would run continuously. We don’t keep the building running, using power and wasting power,” Sakai said.

Even though it is already inexpensive to power, the LED lighting throughout the structure also works under an energy management system, Sakai said.

“If (the lights) don’t detect any movement after 15 minutes, they will shut off their zones,” he explained.

The entire facility is overlooked by skylights that provide natural light at workstations, fans that are designed to minimize the amount of HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning), and a non-evaporative cooling system that saves REI millions of gallons of water each year. The cooling system uses fans to stir tempered air, produced by pressurized water, throughout the facility.

“If we did not have the fans, there would be almost 50 times more power being used per hour than what we’re currently doing,” Sakai said.

Employees are especially appreciative of the cooling system because the temperature inside is comfortable regardless of the one outside, Sakai said. Employees also find comfort in their hyper chairs, which enable them to control their own microclimate using fans and heating elements.

“It could be raining and pouring, dry, the coldest day of the year, the hottest day of the year. We’re pretty much within that comfort zone of 73 to 74 degrees,” he said.

Other energy-efficient features are the facility’s 2.2-megawatt solar system and its solar array. REI’s solar system generates enough renewable energy to power a little less than 400 homes a year. It is this energy that is expected to power the entire distribution center in the future. The solar array, which covers 280,000 square feet of roof space, works in conjunction with the city of Goodyear’s power station, which is conveniently located close by. The interconnected network allows the facility to send power to the grid during the day and pull power back during the night.

Maria T. Vargas, director of DOE’s Better Buildings Challenge, believes there’s always room for improvement in the pursuit of sustainability.

“From the Department of Energy’s perspective, we work with hundreds of organizations, and one of the things that unites them all is this realization: ‘You can always be better,’” Vargas said. “A lot of people think, ‘Oh, I’ve screwed in a new light bulb. I’m done.’”

REI’s collaboration and transparency on what it has implemented in its facility is something that benefits everyone, Vargas said.

“These guys being open about what they’re doing is not just going to make them better, but we all win,” she said.

When it comes down to it, putting forth the best energy-efficient solutions is not about competing with other companies, but a larger issue, Sakai said.

“It has nothing to do with what we sell our product at or profitability. It’s more about making sure that we’re responsible for our environment. We will all be successful as long as we all contribute to that,” he said.

“We take care of our environment because we want it to be here for generations to come. That’s why we do what we do.”

REI hopes to be at net-zero energy by the end of 2019, Sakai said.