Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Engineering (PhD)

Degree Level



Mechanical Engineering


Darin W. Nutter

Committee Member

Rick J. Couvillion

Second Committee Member

Uchechukwu C. Wejinya

Third Committee Member

Larry A. Roe

Fourth Committee Member

Greg J. Thoma


Distribution Center, Food Distribution, Life Cycle Assessment, Multi-objective Optimization, Renewable Energy, Supermarket


Distribution centers (DCs) and supermarkets have an important role in food sustainability, but no previous research has accounted for their environmental impact. The purpose of this research was to assess environmental sustainability of grocery, perishables, and general merchandise DCs; to estimate food storing and retailing impact; and to provide cost-effective strategies to reduce DCs’ environmental impacts. The importance and relevance of the research is threefold: improving sustainability of DCs, food storing, and food retailing. The main method used in this research was the life cycle assessment (LCA) method. An initial study calculated environmental impacts of the Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. DCs, which combined a building energy consumption simulation, a process modeling tool for conveyors, regional water consumption and scarcity, and an LCA model of DCs’ material and construction environmental impacts. Further research provided an in-depth analysis of refrigerated zones within DCs and supermarkets in the United States. The study represents an initial attempt at assessing the environmental impact of food storage and retailing. We developed a model for calculating environmental impact of food storing and retailing in different states. Drawing on the data about DCs’ energy consumption and the impact of climate change, a multi-objective optimization model including cost, non-renewable fossil energy use, and climate change was developed. The optimization model used on-site solar panels and off-site wind technologies to find cost-effective energy mixes, which will reduce environmental impacts and shift DCs from energy consumers to energy producers and net zero DCs. We found solutions to the Pareto-optimal zero energy DCs, which were achieved by installing roof solar panels and/or erecting wind turbines at nearby locations. A pairwise Monte Carlo analysis showed when the switch to renewable energy became superior in terms of reducing fossil energy use and environmental impact. The research has shown variation of environmental impacts by building type, size, state, and climate zone; has identified which food has the highest and lowest storage and retailing impacts; and has found a feasible option to increase solar and wind energy use in DCs. Supporting datasets for chapters 2, 3, and 4 are included in Appendices 1, 2, and 3, respectively.

Appendix 1.docx (310 kB)
Appendix 2.docx (785 kB)
Appendix 3.docx (7631 kB)