Towards a New and Better Normal

COVID-19 has exposed the fragility of the Philippines’ agriculture value chains. In March and April, at the height of the Enhanced Community Quarantine, rural farmers were not able to sell their produce which led to a lot of food wastage. Cold storage plays a crucial role in avoiding post-harvest losses in agriculture, and in ensuring the country’s food security.

Aside from its economic role, the cold storage industry also plays a key role in reducing harmful greenhouse gases from being released in to the atmosphere. The on-going pandemic gives an opportunity for the government and business sector to shift towards more sustainable ways of strengthening agriculture value chains and ensuring food security.

Because of its multi-stakeholder, multi-sectoral, and multi-technology nature, the cold storage industry has the potential to transform the food supply chain into a direction which is more sustainable. This entails the shift to “clean” cooling systems which not only means using natural refrigerants but also efficient energy use.

Business-as-usual no longer an option

With the impact of climate change, business-as-usual is no longer an option. Environmentally sound business operations may entail significant initial investments but the opportunities and benefits outweigh the costs. Savings that will be incurred with cleaner cooling systems will protect businesses from rising electricity prices. Moreover, it will address consumer demand for more ecologically friendly products and regulatory compliance — particularly on ‘greening’ buildings and business operations.

With the impact of climate change, business-as-usual is no longer an option.

Gilda garibiay

Clean cooling can be a holistic approach. Green strategies can also be applied in the design and operation of whole cold storage facilities, not just on the refrigeration system alone.  According to a study conducted in the United States in 2016, 54% of energy used in cold storage facilities is for refrigeration, while the rest is for other purposes such as office HVAC, lighting and other facility equipment. There is a need to manage effectively the 46% energy usage if monetary savings and responsible environmental operation is to be achieved.

Smart design techniques to reduce cooling demand and energy use

Green building is the direction now. This prompted the government to develop the Green Building Code, which set guidelines on the design of buildings and its impact on energy and water use, as well as solid waste management. In parallel to this effort, several accreditation bodies have been established to validate ‘green’ building practices. The main goal is to make the facility use less energy and water while maintaining its purpose and convenience. Below are some of the measures that cold storage facilities can explore towards sustainable operation.

In terms of building design of cold storage facilities, the following can be considered:

  1. Orientation of the building to minimize exposure to the sun’s path, meaning the building’s short side should face the east-west axis;
  2. The use of light colored roofing as black roofs absorb more heat resulting in an 80°C warmer roof compared to white roofs. This further results in an inside temperature 30°C warmer than buildings with white roofs;
  3. Allowing air inlet and air outlet in the roofing in order to have a constant supply of fresh air to cool the area between the roof and the ceiling (attic). Well ventilated attics are up to 40% cooler, resulting in a minimization of interior heating;
  4. Decreasing the transfer of undesirable solar heat by means of window films and planting trees and plants around the building;
  5. Maximizing natural day lighting with the use of skylight roofing or solar tubes and the installation of big windows. Daylighting can cut lighting energy use by up to 80%;
  6. Preventing heat islands that radiate high temperatures to the surrounding area and buildings, thus instead of concrete pavement, using permeable or natural pavement.

For energy management, the following should be taken into account:

  1. Peak load management or maximizing energy usage during off-peak hours when electricity is cheapest;
  2. Avoiding standby loss by unplugging appliances that are not in use;
  3. Avoiding unnecessary power consumption. One way to do this is through the labelling of switches;
  4. Using energy efficient lighting and appropriate wattage for a room or purpose;
  5. Ensuring an air-sealed air-conditioned room and keeping the energy efficient unit in good working condition by safeguarding it from the source of heat;
  6. Considering investing in renewable energy such as solar power.

Like energy, water is a precious resource and responsible use of it saves a lot of money. There are many ways to save water like through re-use and recycling, the use of water-efficient plumbing fixtures, the installation of sub-meters, conducting water audits, implementing a water management plan, among others. The installation of a rain water collection system is also a good investment. And on-site water treatment for re-use can also be used as an environmental indicator.

The COVID-19 pandemic may pose a lot of challenges, but it has also enabled society to re-think the “business-as-usual” and focus on what is more important. People are now more conscious in terms of consumption, as they focus on products and services deemed essentials and sustainable. With this, the demand for “clean” cooling systems and “green” buildings are expected to rise. It is now high time for the government and business sector to work together towards making it part of the “new and better normal”.

Gilda Garibay currently serves as the Project Leader for the Global Partnership for improving the Food Cold Chain in the Philippines. Gilda has more than 13 years of experience in projects related to environmental engineering, climate resilience and green growth in the Philippines — serving in roles ranging from policy development to project design and implementation.