October 5, 2012
- Ready or not, Whole Foods Market is redefining the meaning of corporate sustainability for retailers across the country and around the globe. During its annual Green Mission Team Build event hosted by Yale on October 5th, 2012, Whole Foods Market Team Members demonstrated how they have weaved their deeply-held commitment to environmental stewardship into the very DNA of Whole Foods Market’s business practices. In a world where the term ‘corporate sustainability’ often represents little more than reactive and sometimes disingenuous marketing strategies, Whole Foods Market’s proactive, grassroots approach to real green initiatives within the company is refreshing.
Clearly, the EPA agrees. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently awarded the company the 2012 Green Power Leadership Award for the company’s commitment to green power purchases, which included 800 million kilowatt-hours last year alone, and helping advance the development of the nation’s voluntary green power market. In addition, Whole Foods Market also received the Superior Achievement Award from the EPA for reaching its refrigerant emission reduction goal for last year.
Riding high on these recent successes, the fifty-plus Green Mission Team Members from the stores in the North Atlantic and Northeast regions and the Yale community gathered for the Green Mission Team Build event in Burke Auditorium on Oct. 5. The agenda for the day included both time to review and reflect on current strategies as well as time to identify future directions for the company’s environmental efforts.
One of opportunities to examine how Whole Foods Market has woven its Green Mission into all areas of its business came with a Sustainability Leadership presentation featuring Kathy Loftus, Global Leader of Sustainable Engineering and Energy Management for Whole Foods Market. During her talk, Ms. Loftus highlighted examples of how Whole Foods Market used its Green Mission to ‘walk the talk.” For instance, Whole Foods Market has invested close to $10 million dollars in energy reduction initiatives such as installation of LED fixtures and refrigeration system retrofits. Moreover, the company has found that the payback time in terms of energy savings averages ranges from two to three years among the various projects.
Thanks in large part to its decentralized, consensus-based approach, Green Mission Team Members and Whole Foods customers have inspired many other green initiatives in and around Whole Foods Market stores, including eliminating plastic bags from check-outs, offering compostable deli containers, successful zero-waste initiatives, and striving for full transparency from seed to plate. As Mr. Lee Kane, Whole Foods Market’s North Atlantic Region Eco-Czar and Forager, explained, “Team Members are often attracted to Whole Foods Market because of their personal alignment with our Green Mission and [our belief] in putting our values into action.”
Whole Foods Market’s emphasis on active interaction with its Team Members and customers was on full display during the afternoon’s final event, a panel entitled “Food & Sustainability: Access and Impacts.” The event was moderated by Errol Schweizer, Senior Global Grocery Coordinator at Whole Foods Market and featured prominent panelists from the Yale community, including Mark Bomford from the Yale Sustainable Food Project, Dr. Kelly Brownell from the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, Rafi Taherian from Yale Dining Services and Patrick Struebi, founder of Fairtrasa.
From the start, there was never a lack of hands in the air, with both Whole Foods Market Team Members and members of the Yale community vying to ask questions of the panelists. The panel fielded a range of questions, from the financial feasibility of local supply chains, to proper nutrition labeling and promoting consumer awareness. In particular, Mr. Schweizer highlighted one of the key take-home messages the panelists and members of the audience seemed to agree upon, which is the importance of a continued dialogue and symbiotic relationship between food retailers and research institutions such as Yale.
In the face of cynics and skeptics of corporate sustainability, Whole Foods Market’s position as the nation’s leading green food retailer demonstrates that passionate Team Members, committed decision-makers and collaborators such as Yale University can help other food retailers to employ real and substantive eco-responsible business practices. Or as Kathy Loftus put it, “sometimes it comes down to rolling up your sleeves and showing what works.”
To see a recording of the event, click here
. *Whole Foods Market’s annual Green Mission Team Build event was hosted by the Yale Center for Business and the Environment in partnership with the Yale Sustainable Food Project and the Yale Office of Sustainability.