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Sustainability Report

2023 Sustainability Report: Taking action

Here's what c-stores in Canada are doing to reduce their carbon footprint.
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The c-store sector in Canada was slow off the mark in making sustainability an environmental, social and business imperative. 

But its players are now rising to the challenge, undertaking tangible actions to combat climate change. They are part of the solution towards helping the Canadian government reach its goal of a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 from 2005 levels. That ladders up to the ultimate goal for Canada to be a net zero economy by 2050. 

Alimentation Couche-Tard has mapped out a journey to sustainability in Canada, which includes an EV charger network, a partnership with food waste reduction company and more. “We are just at the start of our journey,” says Helena Winberg, the company’s director of global sustainability, who is based in Stockholm.

Couche-Tard’s path was recently validated with an upgrade to AA (a leader on ESG initiatives) from an A (average), by Morningstar Sustainalytics, a global ESG research and ratings firm. “It is recognition that we are taking the right approach,” says Winberg.

She adds that it was important for the company, which owns the Circle K brand, to not wait for government targets before acting.  

[Read more: "Couche-Tard recognized for workplace culture"]

“You want to stay ahead of what’s coming around the corner on government regulation, so that you make the right investment decisions for the business, rather than the wrong ones because of feeling the time pressure,” says Winberg.

7-Eleven Canada, meanwhile, is set to announce a nationwide partnership with Too Good to Go, as part of its effort to save food from landfill. Its 7Charge fast-charging network, which has already rolled out in several U.S. states, is also coming soon to Canada. 

In addition to rolling out its own EV charging network, Parkland is looking to make its c-stores more energy efficient.

“Sustainability means providing our customers with safe, reliable energy and products they need today, while making strategic decisions and innovative investments that contribute to a lower carbon future,” says Christy Elliott, chief sustainability officer, Parkland.

[Read more: "Parkland's forecourt makeovers"]

Together with independent store owners who are adopting some of the same measures as the big chains, the industry is working to become better for the Earth, and to support government, suppliers and, ultimately, customers on their own journeys towards sustainability.


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Revving up to the electric age 

One of the big investments c-store chains are making to help governments and consumers reduce their GHG emissions is in bringing them cleaner fuels and EV charging. 

Parkland, for instance, is in the midst of rolling out one of the largest ultra-fast EV charging networks in Western Canada.

Spanning 50 locations across its On the Run stores, the EV-charging network “will stretch from Vancouver Island to Calgary,” says Parkland’s chief sustainability officer Christy Elliott.

“Charging stations will be located at intervals that help eliminate range anxiety for our customers, deliver up to a 200-kilowatt charge and can charge most EV models within 20 to 30 minutes,” she adds.

A number of sites are open now.  

According to Statistics Canada, zero-emission vehicles in the third quarter of 2022 comprised 8.7% of total new motor vehicle registrations (34,313), a record high.

While seeing a steep year-over-year decline of 17% during the same period, new registrants of gasoline-powered vehicles still had an 80.9% share.

To that end, Parkland is among the Canadian chains investing in low-carbon fuel production. Since 2017, it has been scaling the ability to co-process Canadian-made renewable feedstocks such as canola or tallow with conventional crude oil to manufacture low-carbon fuels.

This past year, Parkland's refinery in Burnaby, B.C. became the first refinery in the world to co-process tall oil, which takes waste from pulp mills and converts it into fuel.

“We accelerated our production of low-carbon fuels and co-processed 111 million litres, which was the equivalent of taking more than 100,000 cars off the road,” says Elliott.

Parkland has committed to reduce customers’ GHG emissions by 1 metric tonne a year by 2026. “This is the equivalent of removing over 750,000 cars off the road,” she adds.

In 2022, Couche-Tard opened its 1,000th electronic vehicle charging station in Europe. It now has more than 240 sites with EV chargers on the continent and has also sold more than 9,756 charging units for the home, community-sharing and office. It also offers customers in Norway a product called Circle K Strøm (“Circle K Power”)—electricity generated from identifiable, renewable sources, such as wind and solar power.

[Read more: "Alimentation Couche-Tard to buy 2,000 service stations from French oil firm"


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“We’re now bringing the knowledge we have gained in Europe to North America,” says Helena Winberg, Couche-Tard’s director of global sustainability.

The Laval, Que.-based company expects to have EV fast chargers at 200 Circle K and Couche-Tard locations in Canada and the U.S. by 2024. It already has a number in Canada, while the U.S. is further behind, with just a handful.

Their rollout will have an impact on store design and merchandise mix, given the EV customer spends considerably more time at a site than if just pumping gas.

This presents a business opportunity to grow revenue and improve the customer experience.

“What we have learned from Norway is EV customers want broader food options, including fresh fruit, and areas to sit or work. Families also would like a place for their kids, whether an outdoor playground or something inside,” says Winberg. “We have already built some of these stores and are bringing it to more locations in Europe and, of course, North America.”

“It will definitely be a transition,” she adds.

Parkland, meanwhile, is looking for a location to build “the electric charging station of the future and create a world-class experience for EV drivers.”

Named “More with Less,” the design features the use of environmentally friendly materials and a modular design that can service large or small stations.  It also includes amenities like On the Run c-stores, high-quality dining and outdoor spaces.

The prototype is from James Silvester, a Scotland-based architect, who was the winner of a global competition Parkland sponsored to reimagine the customer experience for EV drivers.

Regional c-store chains are also making plans to add EV chargers.

MacEwen, which has 103 corporately owned gas/Quickie convenience stores and 85 dealer-operated gas stations under the MacEwen banner in eastern Ontario and Quebec, is “working on adding EV stations,” says the chain’s director of marketing Kirsten Ross. “We are still in the planning process.”


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Fighting food waste

According to a 2022 report from Second Harvest Canada, 45% of 127,000 potential business food donors are left with a surplus. Yet only 4% of Canada’s surplus food gets rescued or redistributed. The rest ends up in landfall, where it rots and spews methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide in trapping heat in the atmosphere.

Not only does such waste reflect poorly on stores because of the negative environmental impact, but many Canadians are struggling to put food on the table.

Some c-store players have stepped up to reduce food waste, in a way that helps cash-strapped customers and boosts the bottom-line.

Circle K recently finished a pilot at select locations in Montreal with Too Good to Go Canada, which operates an app that invites consumers to purchase “Surprise Bags” of food nearing the end of their lifecycle. Bags can be bought at different price points, depending on the original value of the food inside.

“We’re really happy with these preliminary results,” says Sam Kashani, country director at Too Good to Go Canada.

a Circle K Employee hands over a Surprise bag

He notes Circle K Surprise Bags rated higher than the app’s average bag rating.  Surprise Bags can include everything from baked goods, wraps and pastries to snacks and grocery essentials, like canned goods and condiments. “Couche-Tard has ensured each bag has a good variety and value,” says Kashani of its stellar rating.

The Montreal pilot comes after Couche-Tard successfully partnered with Too Good to Go at stores in Norway in 2017, and then four years later in Denmark (where the app was founded in 2015). Since then, almost 500,000 meals have been redeemed by customers in the Scandinavian countries, the company reports.

“Collaborations with Too Good to Go, and companies like it in other markets, have turned out really well,” says Helena Winberg, Couche-Tard’s director of global sustainability. “We want food that we sell to get to a customer who can eat it, because that’s what it was prepared for in the first place.”

Food rescue initiatives also support those feeling the pinch of inflation. “We’re enabling people to buy food at a lower price,” Winberg notes.

7-Eleven Canada has also been piloting Too Good to Go at select Vancouver and Toronto stores. “Our pilot has already saved food with nearly 7,000 Surprise Bags,” says Kashani. The initiative has had such a positive impact, the partnership is set to expand nationwide around the end of April

[Read more: "7-Eleven Canada and Too Good To Go expand partnership"]

 “Consumer demand is a primary motivator in the move toward an increase of convenience stores with sustainable practices,” says Kashani. “We also know that food waste is widespread at the convenience level, and providing them with an effective, simple means to reduce the cost and waste typical for most stores is hugely beneficial.”

That includes for independents like Carl’s Convenience in Oakville, Ont., a roughly 400-sq.-ft store which carries grocery items like milk, eggs and bread in addition to the usual staples. Owner Carl Gernhaelder is a chef, who previously worked at Rabba Fine Foods, and prepares deviled eggs, salads and homemade beef stew fresh for his store. 

Carl’s Convenience has been on the app for about a year and a half, charging $5 for $15 worth (or more) of food nearing their “best before” date.

“When we first teamed up, there was so much excess, I did three bags a day for about two or three months, saving all this food from potentially being wasted,” he says. “Now I do one or two bags a day.”

“It helps me regulate the store and keep everything fresh,” adds Gernhaelder.

Rather than throw out expired milk, for example, as he sometimes had to do, “I can put that milk in a Surprise Bag. Some people’s eyes light up when they see that is in the bag.” The same for bananas. “I could sell a whole whack of bananas, then the rest would sit for days. Now when they get really yellow, they go in the bags, and I no longer lose money on them. It has allowed me to carry a lot more fruit and vegetables.”

Under his arrangement, Too Good to Go takes a cut of roughly $1.25 per $5 bag and Carl’s Convenience pays about $50 a month to be on the app. He gets his payout quarterly. “It’s usually around $150 to $200,” he says.

It’s a financial incentive to go along with the feel-good factor of saving food from going to waste.


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Reducing energy consumption

The industry has a ways to go when it comes to upgrading stores and modernizing them into highly energy-efficient, GHG-saving footprints.

Given refrigeration accounts for a big part of a c-store’s total electricity consumption—between 40% and 45%, according to industry estimates—advancements are on the market.

Newer models of walk-in coolers, for instance, have been designed with fewer doors and a more economical interior to display more merchandise, and a better variety of it, too. “With fewer doors being opened, and a smaller interior space, coolers today are a lot more energy efficient,” says Chris Midbo, head of sales, marketing and new business development, Western Refrigeration.

Midbo also advises owners to keep up on maintenance. While cooling systems today possess high-efficiency compressors, he says those savings can be lost if the compressor gets blanketed in dust.  

“It will run hotter and hotter, needing more energy, and will eventually break down,” he says. “Wipe that dust off the compressor every four or six months, and your cooler is going to run 15% to 20% more efficiently.”  

Last year, Couche-Tard carried out more than 10,000 energy-reducing projects globally, including looking at remotely controlling exterior lighting as well as interior heating and cooling.

Stores have also been upgraded with LED lighting, cooler retrofits, heating oil burner replacements and cooling room optimization. 

Parkland has also made energy efficiency at stores a focus, says the company’s chief sustainability officer Christy Elliott.           

“Our teams are hard at work exploring a range of energy-efficiency opportunities for our sites across Canada, such as HVAC upgrades and energy management systems as well as solar,” she says. “As we learn more about where each type of initiative makes the most sense, and where they are cost effective, we’ll be able to implement them at scale.”

C-store IQ Sustainability Chart

This an extract from the 2023 Sustainability Report originally published in the May/June 2023 issue of Convenience Store News Canada.

To read the full report, subscribe now to the digital edition. 

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