Whole Story

The Official Whole Foods Market® Blog

What Makes A Company Green?

By Kathy Loftus, December 12, 2008  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by Kathy Loftus
Kathy Loftus, a limb-dwelling (as in "out on a limb") mechanical engineer with a creative writing and communications bent, joined Whole Foods Market in 2006 to fulfill the Company's desire to create a national vision and mission for an overall energy management strategy. For many years, Whole Foods Market has had a Green Mission program.  It's grass roots and supported at the top, and it's helped us achieve incredible results in protecting our environment.  For the last two years, we've been coordinating a holistic approach to energy management as well as helping develop and share best strategies for facilities management, green engineering/building and reducing our overall carbon footprint and environmental impacts. While this strategic company-wide energy green vision was formally initiated a couple of years ago, we've led the way in moving the industry toward support for renewable and alternative energy and green building for many years. I made a decision to join this group while, gulp, taking less pay, because I was stoked to help coordinate and realize the mission and maybe equally as important to work with people who care...about other people, their planet and good food...and not necessarily their net worth.  It's sort of in their DNA to have this green mission, and it's been snugly nestled into the ethos of Whole Foods Market for more than 25 years. So why then, if Whole Foods Market is so committed, have we not scored well on some recent reports on green companies? A thorn in my side, to be sure! I know personally about all of our diverse initiatives, from composting and recycling to developing and maintaining quality standards and certifications like Marine Stewardship, Forestry Stewardship, LEED, Energy Star, Green-E (renewable energy credits) and on to sponsoring responsible packing forums and eliminating plastic bags and polystyrene from packages shipped to us from our vendors. How can these reports NOT show us as topping the list?! Well, a lot of it has to do with tracking and reporting. We know our programs are making a difference but formalized reports need to see "before" and "after" data. We totally agree that makes sense and we want to be able to see those numbers ourselves. Being able to measure helps us identify other areas for improvement. Baseline energy usage or consistent access to usage information has been a challenge for us and it's a key barrier for many companies who operate multiple locations across the country. That's why we joined the EPA's National Action Plan for Energy Efficiency to collaborate with utility providers and develop solutions for all companies like ours, but it's going to take some time for that governmental process to work. We'll keep helping there but since we don't' want to wait, we are now taking the initiative to work with a third party. Board-level governance is another area of import for formalized reports. For example, some companies get high marks for creating positions like "Director of Sustainability." As I mentioned before, we're green to the core.  Rather than have one or several people at the top dictate what types of major goals will be achieved by a date far out into the future, we have people working on avoiding and reducing impacts every day.  We dream up ideas and work together to help the goals be realized.  For example, Whole Foods Market brought together 65 team members and leaders from around the country along with ten environmental experts last May for a Green Mission Congress, where attendees focused on identifying lofty yet achievable goals in the areas of green buildings, energy and water management, transportation, packaging and communication/education/awareness and outreach for team members and our communities.  A number of short and long term goals have been endorsed by all teams and are moving toward implementation. I'm proud to work with people who constantly raise the bar.  Beginning years ago by providing foods in bulk (no packaging waste!) and recycling containers for our customer and then on through the years of work developing the national organic standards, we've been focusing on fulfilling our stated core value of caring for our communities and environment. We continue that commitment today in a multitude of ways:
  • Supporting Marine Stewardship Council seafood and Forestry Stewardship Council wood.
  • LEED gold for one of our recently opened stores and have 20 plus stores registered with USGBC for certification at various levels.
  • Banning plastic bags and polystyrene from packaging.
  • Installing the world's first fuel cell at a supermarket (Glastonbury, CT),
  • Numerous solar installations in the works.
  • Partnering with Department of Energy (DOE) to develop the Commercial Lighting Solutions Program and a host of other programs
  • Moving closer to zero waste with many regions diverting more than 80% of waste by recycling and composting.
  • Conducting Sustainable Packaging Forums with vendors and providing compostable food containers for our prepared foods venues.
  • Implementing many energy efficiency programs: near real time enterprise energy monitoring and reporting (some sub-metering), installed doors on some medium temperature cases, testing LED lighting in refrigerated cases and other applications
  • Feasibility testing of an on site wind turbine for the Pigeon Cove Seafood Processing Facility in Gloucester, MA
  • Site renewable (waste to energy) energy project for the North Atlantic Region's Commissary in Everett, MA
We've got a lot more in the pipeline, and I'm looking forward to sharing details about all of the great stuff we have going on in future postings.
Category: Green Action




EcoInsomniac says ...
Great overview on what it takes to be a green company. I think many green companies have a long way to go to truly be green, but you are absolutely on the right road and that's what matters. I love the stores and the commitment to the environment and to the people that eat your products. Thanks for sharing.
12/12/2008 12:55:56 PM CST
Julie Fogg says ...
I am a customer of Whole Foods and love everything about your company (except that you don't keep the Durian fruit isolated from the other lovely fresh fruit packages at my local store - I'm half kidding). Just wanted to let you know that I loved this post and I will be sharing it. It matches my core values as a consumer and a business owner trying to balance commerce with my green efforts. Whole Foods rocks!!
12/12/2008 1:10:55 PM CST
Regina says ...
Hey Kathy! I love your post here. Since I've just finished a post on Composting, your point "Moving closer to zero waste with many regions diverting more than 80% of waste by recycling and composting." is very interesting to me. Where exactly is Whole foods waste composted? In my minds eye, I see a HUGE truck backing up to a compost pile for a community garden that is thick and lush with organic goodness! Tell us the story!
12/12/2008 4:32:55 PM CST
Dennis Salazar says ...
Kathy: I just accidentally found your blog and I applaud what you are doing in terms of sustainability as well as transparency. Many who share our concerns are quick to criticize and slow to encourage but Whole Foods is setting the standards or commitments and actions. Congratulations on a very informative article and a great looking blog. Dennis Salazar President Salazar Packaging, Inc. and Globe Guard Packaging Products
12/12/2008 10:02:55 PM CST
loftusk says ...
@Regina: Great idea to provide more details about our composting. We have various programs going on around the country, so I'll pull all that info together and do a full blog post on that soon. Thanks for your interest!
12/15/2008 10:30:08 AM CST
Ted Lemon says ...
This is good stuff. I'm happy to hear about the effort you've put into getting rid of plastics in the distribution process. So please don't take it as a put-down when I mention this: I sitting in the dining area at the Austin downtown Whole Foods eating my breakfast with a plastic fork on a paper plate. I know having a commercial dishwashing facility is expensive, and some customers might prefer plastic and paper to metal and reusable plastic or ceramic dishes, but it sure would be nice if that option were available. Is this just impractical? One of the things my wife and I really like about eating in as opposed to eating out is the reduction in waste, but actually I think at Whole Foods because you use those great all-cardboard takeout boxes, I'm better off taking it home... :'} Anyway, thanks for writing this up - it's good to hear what you're doing, and please don't take my question as a criticism of what you've accomplished.
12/15/2008 11:03:21 AM CST
Jason says ...
I continue to shop at Whole Foods because of their dedication to organics and a better environment. However, there is still plenty of room for improvement. Constructive criticism let's call it. I am disappointed in Whole Foods for continuing to support in-store Jamba Juice use of styrofoam cups. Considered one of the worst products on earth, it's a wonder why Whole Foods partnered with them. In addition, as mentioned above, we eat in store on paper plates with plastic utensils. Even worse, each utensil is individually wrapped in plastic. At the very least, we could eliminate the individual wrapping. Whole Foods could also focus on purchasing from vendors that use safer packaging. Many products on shelves still use styrofoam. Continue to work towards a better life!
12/18/2008 12:00:15 PM CST
Carlos says ...
I too shop at Whole Foods for their commitment to healthier ingredients, organic & local foods etc. But like Jason I believe there is room for more improvement. I imagine that many Whole Foods customers like me probably also try to do what is best for the environment at home by recycling as much waste as they can. One issue I’ve always found to be inconsistent across all food shops is the variety of plastics used that aren’t recyclable in the county they’re sold. Whole Foods could make a great contribution to the consumer recycling movement by lobbying for particular plastic varieties relevant to the districts recycling laws in which those products are sold, enabling the consumer to recycle as much byproduct as possible without raising the costs of recycling due to the filtering that must take place at the recycling plants. In Westchester County (NY) for example only plastics labeled 1 or 2 can be recycled, anything else has to be filtered out. The majority of plastics used for frozen foods are either 5,6 or 7, causing a rise in recycling costs if mistakenly recycled or just waste due to the lack of meeting the recycling requirements. If Whole Foods encouraged their vendors to use plastics that are recyclable across counties or districts recycling costs would go down and finally bring the recycling cycle full circle.
12/21/2008 11:48:57 AM CST
Rick Hausman says ...
There's no Tesco around here, but is it true that the Britain-based supermarket chain has been labeling many of its products with the number of grams of CO2 emitted in manufacture? That seems like a huge commitment, but if true, it would set a standard for environmental enlightenment that even Whole Foods doesn't currently match. Knowing that curtailing GHG emissions is among the most critical issues facing the planet, I'm sure many of us customers would appreciate the ability to modify our carbon footprints by comparison-shopping among side-by-side products. Any plans along these lines?
01/05/2009 3:14:24 PM CST
Tom Griffin says ...
Great blog, Kathy -- i couldn't agree with you more on the tracking and reporting. Action is still the most important piece, and Whole Foods does so many incredible things. But being able to demonstrate effectiveness is critical to program success and it gives you the ability to share your story and help to set the example for other organizations to follow. And it allows Whole Foods to receive recognition at the national level!
01/16/2009 9:26:31 AM CST
Elliot Spano says ...
I find it strange that a food retailer like Whole Foods would market CFL's which contain mercury. For some reason food + mercury doesn't seem to fly with me. This seems to be some important info that was left out of this article. Each CFL contains roughly 4mg of mercury, some run at 500Hz which is unhealthy (normal is 50Hz), and in the picture above there is about 50 lamps visible = 200 mg of mercury, ready to be disposed of improperly into landfills. If anything these companies should be using LED lamps? Thoughts anyone?
02/10/2009 9:46:40 AM CST
Alex Spencer says ...
Reading all of these outstanding things that whole foods does to make their stores green is inspiring. I am currently a customer at the new Memphis store. I question whether these green stnadards are held in this store. Not only do I see very little recycling but the organic produce selection is bare. I think the Memphis store may need a little help to make it feel like a real whole foods store.
03/24/2009 10:34:54 AM CDT
Bill Fogarty says ...
My company is committed to the greening of the plastics industry, too. We make the technology that makes plastic foam trays (meat, poultry, vegetable, fruit) from plants. Thus, we eliminate polystyrene foam. The industry is slow to adopt our technology (developed with NatureWorks LLC, the world's largest PLA manufacturer) but with the good works of Whole Foods perhaps foam manufacturers will sit up and take notice.
09/09/2010 2:30:37 PM CDT
GomGibiaNix says ...
http://sharerun.com/ - upload file
10/29/2011 7:52:26 PM CDT
Philip Bartlett says ...
Your Green Mission Congress meeting is a brilliant idea. Forestry Stewardship is a lofty goal. 40% of the North America annual tree harvest is used to make wood pallets. Removing these wood pallets from your supply chain would have a much larger sustainability impact when compared to consumers bringing their own reusable shopping bags to your stores. Consider non toxic composite pallets that can be used for years in your supply chain and steam cleaned. Keep up the great work !
02/28/2012 2:58:48 PM CST
Chris says ...
Understood that it is a cooperative task with the vendors, however some improvement could be made with the plastic packaging used for frozen foods, and other food items such as cheese, for example. I keep having to throw away the bags in the trash destined for the landfill when I know that recyclable plastics are available. Perhaps a little more pressure on the vendors to provide packaging that is recyclable would help. Also, shopping at other stores I noticed bio plastic bags for the produce and bulk foods section, while Whole Foods continues to offer only traditional plastic bags for produce. Little things count. Time to step it up! Be the leader in the industry please!
10/03/2014 5:05:19 PM CDT