Sustainability Springs Forth

By Pat Burns, General Manager

Every year, we’re working on a variety of initiatives at the Co-op, many related to sustainability. And once a year, we try to tell a compelling story of our collective Cooperative value and strength in our Annual Report. Since we’re celebrating Earth Week this month, I wanted to take some time and highlight the “Sustainability & Environment” section of our Annual Report.

Waste Diversion

Not a sexy topic for most, but our Facilities Department really continues to improve the total waste that the Co-op diverts from landfills. Over the past 4 years, we have reduced the amount of total waste sent to landfills from 31% to 20%. That’s a staggering difference of over 20 tons of garbage each year (that we’re either not generating or diverting to compost and recycling). For a mental visual, 20 tons is about the equivalent of 308,000 pixie tangerines that are popular in our Produce Department this time of year.

In another example of waste diversion, we offer Members free water from our Reverse Osmosis (RO) water machine. Members enjoyed over $44,000 worth of free water last year! In total, the Co-op sold almost 117,000 gallons of RO water during the year. If this were water sold in 20 ounce bottles, which is our most popular size, it would represent almost 748,000 plastic bottles that our customers didn’t use because they purchased their water in bulk! That’s enough plastic bottles to line the path from our front door to the Putney Food Co-op in southern Vermont.

Alternative Transportation

We encourage staff and customers to use alternate forms of transportation to shop, to keep our parking lot safe and to lessen our collective impact on the planet. Our employees receive free bus passes to commute to and from work, so they can leave their cars at home. We installed a new bike rack in our back parking lot last year; it’s a double-decker – the first of its kind to be installed in Vermont and covered by a canopy. We also installed a bike air pump near our front bicycle parking area. And, we continue to offer Bicycle Benefits, which gives customers who bike to the Co-op a 5% discount on their groceries. Last year, we offered over $5,500 in Bicycle Benefit incentives to customers.

FishWise: Sustainable Seafood

Last fiscal year, we partnered with FishWise, a non-profit organization focused on the health and recovery of ocean ecosystems, to develop and implement a new sustainable seafood program. Through this partnership we have improved our seafood sourcing, trained staff and created additional educational materials for customers. Seafood sourced through the program bears a “Best Choice” tag, indicating they come from well-managed sources that minimize the environmental impacts of harvesting or farming, according to the scientific criteria of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program. Our goal is to source more sustainable seafood and share “Best Choice” information with customers to help you make informed decisions. As a side note, we also recently started carrying local trout and Lake Champlain perch!

If you have any questions on any of these projects, feel free to let me know and introduce yourself the next time you’re at the Co-op!

How are we celebrating this Earth Week? Please join us, starting Monday, April 20, as we offer free reusable bags at each register. Like last year, during this week you’ll find that we’ve packed away our paper and plastic bags at each lane. With our partners from Seventh Generation, Cabot, Ben & Jerry’s and Vita Coco, we’re offering customers beautiful and free reusable bags for toting your groceries. These bags fold up nicely and can be stowed on your bike, in your backpack or purse, in your car or any number of places. It’s our hope that we’ll grow the number of customers remembering to bring their reusable bags each time they shop!

As an added bonus, during that same week, we’ll offer some great deals on products from our Earth Week sponsors – Seventh Generation, Cabot, Ben & Jerry’s and Vita Coco. More details will be available on our website soon!