What Makes A Company Green?


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 opens in a new tab.  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 opens in a new tab, we've been focusing on fulfilling our stated core value of caring for our communities and environment opens in a new tab.We continue that commitment today in a multitude of ways:

  • Supporting Marine Stewardship Council opens in a new tab seafood and Forestry Stewardship Council opens in a new tab wood.

  • LEED gold for one of our recently opened stores and have 20 plus stores registered with USGBC for certification opens in a new tab 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.

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