Woolworths Group, which operates Australia’s largest chain of retail food stores with almost 1,100 outlets, will be offering an expanded World Refrigeration Day (WRD) educational program on June 26, with multiple stores allowing young people to view “state-of-the-art” transcritical CO2 refrigerant systems and meet industry professionals.

The one-hour “plant room open day” tours will take place at Woolworths supermarkets in all state capital cities in an effort to educate young people about potential careers in supermarket refrigeration, a perennially overlooked career choice. Visitors will be able to observe “a day in the life of a refrigeration technician,” says a promotional flier prepared by Woolworths.

“Join us this World Refrigeration Day to discover the future of refrigeration and career opportunities available,” adds the flier.

Woolworths’ WRD program is being supported by the Australian Institute of Refrigeration, Air conditioning and Heating (AIRAH) as well as several training organizations, including Box Hill Institute, RMIT University, TAFE NSW, TAFE Queensland and Workforce Australia.

Woolworths, a 99-year-old company based in Bella Vista, Sydney, offered similar tours at two stores in Sydney and Melbourne on the inaugural WRD, June 26, 2019. WRD – held on June 26 because it is the birthday of refrigeration pioneer Lord Kelvin –  aims to focus attention on the significant role that refrigeration, air-conditioning and heat pumps play in modern life and society.

At its 2019 WRD event, Woolworths’ two showcase stores hosted almost 90 attendees, who were shown the cold room, transcritical CO2 plant room and gas coolers. 

“Predominantly younger members of the public were taken on plant room familiarization tours by Woolworths technicians and industry body representatives,” said Dario Ferlin, National Sustainable Engineering Manager for Woolworths 360. “Woolworths refrigeration mechanics made themselves available to provide insights into ‘a day in the life’ and answer any questions.”

Participants at the event were given resources aimed at directing vocational inquiries towards online and “brick” refrigeration and air-conditioning support structures, he added.

Building on 2019 event

Woolworths did not hold store tours of this kind from 2020 to 2022 due to COVID-related restrictions. However, this year it will return to offering the tours at additional locations. The program was revived based on the success of the WRD 2019 event and “the enthusiasm from Woolworths 360 team members who took part and who would like to contribute again,” said Ferlin.

The store tours give Woolworths a chance to showcase its transcritical COrefrigeration systems, which the chain began installing in 2017. Woolworths now the technology in 79 supermarkets. Forty-two of these 79 stores use the transcritical CO2 systems to provide space heating and 17 of these 42 stores also use the systems for space cooling in a fully integrated scenario. Woolworths has stated that it aims to build all new stores with transcritical CO2 refrigeration systems where possible.

A tour of a Woolworths store’s transcritical CO2 plant room on World Refrigeration Day in 2019

With its WRD program, Woolworths is trying to overcome the “low profile” held by the cooling industry, which is typically “not considered a first vocational choice for school-leaving-age youth,” said Ferlin.

Given their impact on the environment, refrigeration and air-conditioning deserve more attention, Ferlin noted, pointing out that in its 2021 fiscal year 70% of Woolworths 2.0Mt of CO2e emissions were tied to refrigeration and air-conditioning. “From fiscal year 2025, Woolworths will be sourcing all of its power from renewable sources, so refrigeration and air-conditioning fugitive refrigerants are forecast to account for 90% of Woolworths Group emissions,” he added.

And yet the Australian government, said Ferlin, has listed air-conditioning and refrigeration mechanic as an “in-demand skill” in Australia.

WRD, said Ferlin “is about our combined [industry] efforts to steer our industry towards a sustainable future. Sustainable in terms of the ecological footprint we leave behind and sustainable in terms of creating an ecosystem of skilled and experienced technicians, engineers and technology providers to support the evolution of HVAC&R technologies into the future.”

Ferlin noted that the inspiration for Woolworths’ plant room open day came from an article he read in 2018 regarding “Door Opener Day” in Germany. On that day, October 3 each year, hundreds of German institutions and companies open their doors to children to demonstrate what they do.

“Woolworths refrigeration mechanics made themselves available to provide insights into ‘a day in the life’ and answer any questions.”

Dario Ferlin, National Sustainable Engineering Manager for Woolworths 360