‘More than just business’: Drink distributor in Gurnee leads sustainability pack

Solar panels project just one way company plans to look out for the environment

GURNEE – Because of a Gurnee company’s efforts to go solar, people throughout Lake County are drinking greener.

The family-owned Kloss Distributing moves about 4 million cases of beer, wine and other beverages a year through a Gurnee warehouse to more than 1,500 locations throughout the county.

If you’ve bought beer or soft drinks at an area store, gas station, tavern or pub, there’s a good chance Kloss was involved.

Looking to become more sustainable, the company recently installed enough solar panels to cover nearly 81,000 square feet of roof space. Kloss worked with General Energy Corp. of Elk Grove Village on the installation and looks to become even more sustainable with future efforts.

When the technology advances, the company intends to phase out its fleet of about 50 delivery trucks and replace them with electric vehicles.

The push to become more energy efficient and go green just makes sense, said Mike Kloss, the company’s chief operating officer.

“There are people who don’t care, but there are many people who are very passionate about it,” he said. “It’s more than just business. You’re looking out for the environment, too, and looking out for each other.”

The company is leading the pack when it comes to sustainability in the beverage industry, said Tony Jaswal, vice president of General Energy Corp.

Efforts such as these may seem intimidating to many businesses, but advances in solar technology, combined with increasing federal and state incentives, are making them more feasible, Jaswal said.

“There’s a real opportunity for other businesses to get into it,” he said.

The installation of 1,733 Sunpower Series P solar panels at Kloss will reduce carbon dioxide pollution by 639 metric tons each year – the equivalent to taking 138 cars off the road, those involved with the effort say. And it covers 100% of the company’s electric needs, officials said.

The Kloss installation was one of more than 10,000 solar installations completed in Illinois in 2020.

“GEC started by understanding Kloss Distributing’s business and sustainability goals and then designed a system that gave the owners what they were looking for,” Jaswal said. “We were able to provide a full solution that allowed the owners to focus on their business while getting the maximum value from their investment in solar.”

The investment will pay for itself in about two years and generate $70,000 in energy savings every year thereafter, company officials said.

“The price was right,” Kloss said, “and we’re doing the right thing.”

Kloss had been interested in the family’s 47-year-old company going green for years, but had felt discouraged by the cost.

“The return on investment was just too far out there,” he said.

However, upon expanding the warehouse, he decided to investigate it thoroughly.

The open roof of a warehouse in an industrial park just seemed like a natural fit for the solar panels, Kloss said.

General Energy Corp. did the legwork to help Kloss gain federal and state renewable energy programs to make the project feasible, Kloss said. The company also designed and installed the project, managed the connection to the electric grid and trained Kloss staff on the operation of the system.

GEC delivered turnkey solar solutions for 15 Illinois distribution, manufacturing and industrial businesses in the past year.

“The biggest thing was the cost,” Kloss said. “I just pay my same electric bill for the next five years. Instead of taking that and putting it toward energy. I’m taking that and it’s paying off all the equipment that’s up on the roof. Between that and what we’re getting back from the state and federal government … I’m basically at a net zero cost, no liens, no loans. We’re doing the right thing, and I get these panels.”