Set to open this fall, the 450,000-square foot facility will be about 60% more energy efficient than Wal-Mart’s traditional DCs and one of the most energy-efficient facilities of its kind in North America, according to Wal-Mart.

"We've set the ambitious goal of building the most sustainable distribution center possible, while at the same time delivering a compelling return on investment," says Andy Ellis, senior vice president of supply chain for Wal-Mart Canada. "The center will be a living lab that demonstrates sustainable operations, products and technologies, while showing that environmental sustainability can go hand-in-hand with business sustainability."

Wal-Mart is planning to install a wide variety of material handling systems and equipment to support its sustainability efforts. For the first time, Wal-Mart will use hydrogen fuel cells to power its entire lift truck fleet. The hydrogen will come from Quebec, where it is produced using 98% renewable energy sources, including hydroelectricity. Wal-Mart estimates the fuel-cell-powered lift trucks will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 1.2 million pounds (530 tonnes).

In addition, the entire facility will be lit by LED lighting. LED lights operate at low temperatures, have long life spans and strike instantly, according to the retailer. Wal-Mart expects to save an estimated 1.4 million kilowatt-hours annually—the equivalent of powering 121 average-size Canadian households for a year.

Wal-Mart also plans to test solar and wind energy at the Balzac DC by installing 16 solar thermal panels on the side of the facility. The panels will supply clean, renewable energy to heat the hot water in the facility. A 225-kilowatt wind turbine located on site will produce enough energy to supply 55 average-size Canadian homes.

The facility also has a cutting-edge refrigeration system that requires less power than conventional systems and uses ammonia instead of refrigerants. Waste heat from the refrigeration system will heat the facility during the winter months.

Concrete flooring throughout the facility will contain fly ash—a byproduct of coal burning at electric utility plants—to reduce the use of cement and replace chemical-intensive tiling.

Wal-Mart will also install high-efficiency doorways between temperature zones, insulated dock plates, upgraded dock seals and a white roof membrane that deflects an estimated 85% of sunlight to reduce heat gain and demand on the electrical grid.

Low-flow sinks, toilets and urinals in the washrooms will conserve water, and a sedimentation pond next to the facility will collect storm water and channel it into local water systems.

Finally, Wal-Mart says it will divert 50% of the waste produced during construction away from landfills. The construction process itself will be powered by renewable energy through Bullfrog Power, a Canadian provider of renewable electricity.

"The Balzac distribution center is not only about reducing our own environmental footprint and making strides to achieve our long-term sustainability goals; it's about leading change across an industry and the business world at large," says Ellis. "Our hope is that in the future, facilities like this will no longer be demonstration facilities but the norm for the industry."