This series of case studies demonstrate practical examples of how SFTA Members execute on the SFTA declaration areas. By highlighting the work of companies with strong systems in place, we encourage wider adoption of sustainability practices and encourage transitioning companies towards sustainable business models.
Animal care policies and support programs have proven MOM’s Organic Markets to be an impressive animal care advocate. 100% of the seafood it sells falls into “Best Choices” category from Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, and 100% of the poultry products offered comes from poultry that enjoy a free range lifestyle and are antibiotic-free. In addition, 100% of its dairy products are rBGH free. However, this Rockville, Maryland based retailer wanted to do more for local wildlife health. Through an innovative partnership with the Oyster Recovery Partnership (ORP), it is helping to restore oyster populations and clean the water in the Chesapeake Bay. By nature, oysters filter water, and the ORP has planted over 5 billion oysters to-date. MOM’s adds to this success by returning used oyster shells to the ORP. These shells are then used as “homes” for baby oysters, improving their chances of survival to adulthood. The final tally of “repurposed” oyster shells? Over 1,400 tons!
CLIMATE CHANGE AND AIR EMISSIONS
Providence, Rhode Island based United Natural Foods, Inc., the leading U.S. independent distributor of natural, organic and specialty foods, unsurprisingly has a sharp eye cast towards its air emissions and climate impacts. It reduces its energy use footprint through use of renewable energies, has five LEED-certified distribution centers across the country, and in particular has been reducing fleet emissions through a multi-pronged approach. Trucks are outfitted with Eco-Flaps which reduce drag and road spray. Routes are optimized through the use of Roadnet software; a powerful tool when paired with PeopleNet software. PeopleNet is an on-board vehicle technology that helps drivers utilize efficient driving practices. Idle times, shifting techniques, and optimized speeds are all communicated to drivers to improve fuel use. UNFI also increased its use of rail versus ground transport.
All of these practices have yielded some impressive results to date. With its increase in rail transport, UNFI has averted the emission of 21,090 metric tons of CO2-equivalent (m.t. CO2e). Increases in fuel efficiency resulted in the avoidance of 693 m.t. CO2e. Furthermore, optimization of routing resulted in the avoidance of 486 m.t. CO2e!
DISTRIBUTION AND SOURCING
In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, SFTA member Outpost Natural Foods proves its dedication to local and sustainable sourcing through a robust program. To ensure that all products purchased are as sustainable as possible, a “Product Evaluation Tool” is used to evaluate all potential new products. This matrix takes into account a product’s carbon footprint, the perceived ethics of the supplier, and packaging sustainability (i.e. is it BPA free, compostable, or recyclable), and gives preference to local or regional products. Locally or regionally produced foods are designated as “local regional favorites” on shelves in order to promote local sales and reduce environmental impacts from distribution footprints. Two positions were also created to have a special focus on increasing local sales, including the Produce Category Manager and a Local Purchasing Specialist! The latter’s goals are specifically to increase the number of local vendors and products the co-op carries.
You’d be hard pressed to find a more comprehensive sustainability education program than that at Organic Valley in La Farge, Wisconsin. External efforts include consumer campaigns that are magnified through partnerships with companies like FrogTV, creation and use of their own YouTube channel, and public education initiatives like the Earth Dinner. Generation Organic was formed in 2010, and is a group of young (18-35 years old) farmers who visit college classrooms across the country and local school classrooms to educate students about organic farming.
Internally, in addition to regularly offered sustainability classes, Organic Valley has created the innovative Employee Growth Incentive Program. It encourages employees to learn about sustainability through media and volunteer activities; employees receive a bonus at year’s end based on how much they learned. In 2014, employees spent an average of 19 hours on training which included sustainability-related classes and volunteer activities.
Lastly, the On-Farm Sustainability Program was created to help Organic Valley farmers utilize renewable energy sources which helps farmers learn about and optimize renewable energy and waste reduction efforts on their farms. These efforts have led to installations of solar power and wind turbines, recycling of agricultural plastic, and biomass digesters. To-date, there are 24 on-farm renewable energy projects installed for a totaling nearly 1 million kWh of energy production annually. In 2014, 35.5 tons of plastic mulch was collected from produce farms which was recycled into trash bags.
In its Springfield, Oregon manufacturing facility, So Delicious® Dairy Free partnered with Cascade Energy and its local utility to participate in the Track & Tune program – an efficiency program designed for medium to large industrial energy users. After months of recording baseline data, changes were made to increase the frozen dessert plant’s energy efficiency, including upgrades to refrigeration equipment plus several low cost/no cost improvements, resulting in an efficiency “tune-up” equal to a 5% reduction of overall energy use for 2013. In 2014 the frozen dessert plant really started reaping the benefits of the program, improving its energy efficiency to 3.97 pounds per kilowatt hour from 3.60 pounds per kilowatt hour, a 10% year-over-year energy efficiency increase.
GOVERNANCE AND COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT
The Community Food Co-op in Bellingham, WA gives back to its community through multiple community and school education classes and charitable donations. However, the co-op has also set up community partnerships in a way that will perpetuate livelihoods and economic success of the local economy.
The Community Food Co-op’s Farm Fund initiates and funds programs designed to support the growth of local, sustainable agriculture. The Farm Fund provides grants and low-interest loans to farmers and food and farming programs. Some of these farmers work with groups making their own significant social investment efforts. Community to Community Development’s Finca Esperanza (Community Hope Garden) trains, serves, and is run by farm workers. Growing Veterans combines veteran reintegration with sustainable agriculture. The fund also works to increase access to local food and to encourage ecological and socially responsible farmland stewardship.
The Community Food Co-op also partners with 39 local businesses in the co-op’s Local Business Partner Program; this program supports buying local and the local business community. Local business owners can sign up to offer a special discount only for member-owners of the co-op.
Going above-and-beyond normal employee programs is nothing new for Annie’s, Inc. This Berkeley, California company offers a full “standard” benefits package, along with some of the best employee perks around: an edible garden, flexible work hours, commuter benefits, ergonomics assessments, twice-monthly massage services, and an on-site gym with yoga and circuit training classes. It doesn’t stop there; the company ensures that critical supply chain partners are aligned with its sustainability values. For its manufacturing partners, Annie’s has a Supplier Code of Conduct that suppliers agree to adhere to. Annie’s takes this one step further by having third-party audits conducted at select locations. Within the farming supply chain, Annie’s supports an apprenticeship program run by one of its wheat farmers to ensure they can grow the next generation of organic farmers. Annie’s purchases sugarcane from a supplier in Brazil who invests in its people, as demonstrated by its EcoSocial certification from IBD. Finally, in 2014 Annie’s transitioned 66% of its cocoa ingredients to be responsibly sourced, 3rd-party certified!
ORGANIC AND LAND USE
Straus Family Creamery, the first 100% certified organic creamery in the US, continues to help generate and respond to growing consumer demand for organic dairy products. The Petaluma, California-based company has added two additional dairies to its group of family farm milk producers, bringing the total up to eight local, organic, family farms comprising 5,081 organic acres in California’s Marin and Sonoma counties. This growth has supported a 27% increase in the amount of organic milk processed at the creamery in 2013. An innovative water saving system reuses all of the water from the creamery at the nearby Straus dairy, where it irrigates pastures, flushes the barns, and helps with generation of renewable energy through a methane digester.
Based on consumer demand, its mission to offer organic products, and long-term sustainability goals, the Ashland Food Co-op in Ashland, OR performed a GMO audit in its store; this considerable effort resulted in 100 products being removed from its shelves! Furthermore, product standards have been developed that do not allow GMO ingredients in any new products in the store.
PACKAGING AND MARKETING MATERIALS
Earl’s Organic Produce in San Francisco, CA has taken several steps to reduce the amount of packaging waste in its produce distribution. It has set a goal to operate a single-use-packaging-free-facility by the year 2020. Understanding that industry practice and food safety requirements have institutionalized the emphasis on single use packaging like plastic wrap and cardboard and wax boxes, Earl’s is taking an incremental, step-by-step approach to implementing small operational changes to tackle the broader issue.
Paraffin wax boxes are a notorious challenge in the produce industry. The petroleum-based paraffin-coated boxes contaminate finished compost, and because they are not recyclable, they most often end up in the landfill. Until recently, wax boxes have been a necessary evil due to their ability to withstand the cold wet environments required for produce storage. This year, Earl’s discontinued its use of waxed cardboard boxes and replaced them with 100% recyclable wet-guard-medium cardboard boxes that stand up under the cold wet environment of vegetable coolers. This will eliminate about 34,000 pounds of wax cardboard waste from being sent to the landfill each year.
In the next year, Earl’s has the goal of beginning a dialogue with some of their vendors and strategic customers to explore opportunities for implementing RPC (reusable plastic container) pilot programs.
SOLID WASTE REDUCTION
Pacific Foods has developed an impressive infrastructure for dealing with high volume waste streams at its manufacturing headquarters in Tualatin, Oregon. In addition to its comprehensive organic waste composting program, Pacific Foods has also dedicated part of its infrastructure for processing large quantities of recyclable and reusable materials for sale in the recycled materials market. Its facility can handle bailing large quantities of cardboard, plastic, and other materials for resale to various materials customers. Thanks to its robust program, Pacific Foods avoids over $130,000 in annual landfill tipping fees. Coupled with the revenue generated from reselling recyclable and reusable materials, Pacific Foods is able to employ five full time employees in its recycling department. One of its major innovative improvements came when the company worked with a local equipment fabricator to create a machine dedicated to de-watering post-industrial waste cartons! Thanks to the custom machine – appropriately named the “Packcrusher” – waste cartons can be recycled quickly and efficiently. Through each of these efforts, Pacific Foods has managed to increase its recovery rate from 40% in 2007 to over 80% in the first quarter of 2015!
WATER USE REDUCTION
Dual-flush toilets are only the beginning of responsible water use for Seattle, Washington based PCC Natural Markets. Its Edmonds, WA location has two rain gardens in the customer parking lot that naturally cleans runoff through layers of filtering soil amendments, and a rooftop rain harvesting system. The latter provides more than 160,000 gallons of water annually that satisfies one-fourth of the store’s landscaping and toilet flushing needs. With new efficiency toilets in use, those 160,000 gallons can add up to 100,000 flushes! The Edmonds PCC’s demonstration of how easy and effective rain gardens can be in a commercial setting prompted its new neighbor, Walgreens, to install two rain gardens. The store also hosts classes taught by the local conservative district that teaches residents how to install rain gardens at home.
Although primarily a distributor of honey, sweeteners, spices, dried fruits, nuts, and oils, GloryBee takes steps to ensure their product suppliers are responsible animal stewards, in particular for their honey products. Stringent in-house testing ensures there is no use of prohibited antibiotics in their honey and hive (i.e. propolis) products. Many of their cosmetic, personal care, and household products are verified free of animal testing through the Coalition for Consumer Information’s “Leaping Bunny” program.
GloryBee also donates one percent of retail sales revenue to their “Save the Bee” campaign. As a result, in 2012 GloryBee’s first donation of $10,000 was to Oregon State University’s Honeybee Research Lab which established the foundation for a long-term partnership.
CLIMATE CHANGE AND AIR EMISSIONS
Even though SunOpta sales grew by 37 percent from 2008 to 2012, its carbon emissions actually declined by over 8 percent in the same amount of time. To help achieve this goal, the Brampton, Ontario based company performed three major energy saving projects in 2012 that saved over three-quarters of a million kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity that year.
The first project reclaimed waste heat to increase the temperature of incoming process water. The second project involved upgrading the insulation for a large ice bank unit, saving over 125,000 kWh per year. The third project consisted of relocating a chiller and cooler closer to the food processing area in the facility – eliminating 1,000 feet of process piping – and adding insulation on remaining piping to realize over 540,000 kWh of electricity savings. In addition, SunOpta continued their partnership with C.H. Robinson, a third party logistics provider and Trees Ontario to plant trees to offset shipment impacts. As a result, over 11,000 trees have been planted on SunOpta’s behalf since 2010. Combined, these projects have accomplished the equivalent of taking 2,636 homes off of the electrical grid.
DISTRIBUTION AND SOURCING
Hummingbird Wholesale, a Eugene, OR-based organic wholesale company, weaves two SFTA commitment areas – climate change and local initiatives – together in its distribution and sourcing program. Over 12 percent of its total product sales – or 250,000 pounds – was delivered by two custom cargo tri-cycles that can deliver up to 1,000 pounds of organic products at a time! In addition, Hummingbird has a dedicated farm liaison staffer who identifies and builds relationships with local (within 100 miles) and regional (Pacific Northwest) producers. These relationships resulted in a 43 percent growth in the number of acres Hummingbird contracts locally, and a 40 percent increase in the pounds purchased of local and regional products!
MOM’s Organic Market has found a great way to balance climate change, community engagement, and sustainability education initiatives. Twice a year, MOM’s holds “We Love Inflation” events: parking lots are staffed with employees who check customers’ tire pressure. If pressure is low, tires are inflated on-site for a fuel efficiency boost of up to 10 percent. Additionally, MOM’s started a program, “Terrapass Your Gas” to offset customer’s shopping trips to and from its stores in order to raise awareness about the importance of collectively reducing our carbon footprint. In 2013, MOM’s offset over 10,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions through Terrapass. MOM’s employs multiple other methods to educate consumers, including in-store campaigns, newsletters and web pages, and through participation in environmental community events. MOM’s thorough approach to sustainability education also focuses on employees. Peer-to-peer book review sessions, environmental film viewings, and field trips to organic farms, sustainable vendors, as well as recycling and renewable energy facilities, are all part of the extensive sustainability education MOM’s offers employees.
The Wedge Co-Op in Minneapolis, MN uses several methods to decrease energy use and increase renewable energy commitments across all of its dynamic business divisions: grocery retail, distribution warehouse, and farm. In the grocery retail, LED-lit refrigerator cases and air curtains at their store’s primary receiving bay help maintain target store temperature and are both energy-saving tactics. In addition, a roof-mounted solar panel water heating system is used to pre-heat water and cut down on energy needed to heat water to needed temperatures. Energy-efficient lighting retrofits have contributed to a two percent decrease in energy consumed by the store in the last year. These gains were augmented by an increase, from 20 to 22 percent, in the store’s renewable energy sources as its electric utility boosted renewables production. In 2014, The Wedge will make an even bigger leap in renewable energy: it will begin benefiting from the installation of 148 Solarworld 270-watt solar panels that will provide over 50,000 kWh of power at the co-op’s farm, Gardens of Eagan.
GOVERNANCE AND COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT
When it comes to making a difference in its community, Seattle, WA-based PCC Natural Markets is an expert. PCC reported that its ongoing rechargeable Scrip fundraising program earned more than $235,000 for 212 community non-profits in the last year. Additionally, the 25-year old PCC Food Bank Program, which uses cash donations from shoppers to buy bulk food at wholesale prices – repackaged by volunteers at bi-monthly work parties – provided more than 36 tons of food for its program partners.
Sebastapol, CA-based Traditional Medicinals is committed to using age-old plant wisdom to improve the health and wellness of both its consumers and staff. That concern for wellness shows in both its supply chain and employee practices. In 2012, 97 percent of their raw botanical tea ingredients were certified organic. This helped them achieve an amazing feat: in 2012, 94 percent of total consumer products have organic certification, versus only 19 percent in 2002! Additionally, the company achieved non-GMO verification of 100 percent of their products.
Beyond that clear commitment to health and sustainability, Traditional Medicinals not only offers an excellent typical benefits package (including 100 percent coverage of full-time employee health insurance and a 401K plan), but has also transitioned to an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). Its supply chain rests on decades-old direct partnerships with herb and product suppliers; in developing countries, many of those partnerships have been certified to both eco and social standards including FairWild and Fair Trade.
ORGANIC AND LAND USE
Frequently touted as an “organic pioneer,” now publicly-traded Annie’s, Inc. remains true to its roots. The commitment to organic continues to grow: purchase of organic ingredients increased 18 percent in FY2013 over the previous year, and the sales of “organic” and “made with organic” products increased from 85 to 86 percent. 70 of Annie’s product SKUs are non-GMO verified. Annie’s is also involved in federal and state-level GMO labeling policy initiatives and is a founding member of the Just Label It campaign. In addition, its employees serve on boards of several prominent organic associations, including the Organic Trade Association, The Organic Center, and the Sustainable Food Trade Association!
PACKAGING AND MARKETING MATERIALS
The sustainability game can be won or lost with packaging, and Nature’s Path in Richmond, British Columbia, aims to win. Its comprehensive packaging guidelines require that all purchased cardboard and paperboard is certified to the stringent Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standard, printed using vegetable based inks, and made of 100 percent recycled content. In addition, all plastic used in packaging of Nature’s Path products is BPA- and PVC-free. Regardless of its large and growing sales, in 2012 Nature’s Path was able to measure and report that 98 percent of ALL its product packaging, by total weight is recyclable by the consumer.
SOLID WASTE REDUCTION
Always a leader in sustainability, Organic Valley in LaFarge, WI, diverted over 95 percent of its annual waste from landfills. 61 percent of diverted waste went to a local farmer’s biofuel digester, 32 percent was diverted to animal feed, and the remaining 2 percent was recycled. In addition, Organic Valley helps reduce landfill waste in its community by hosting recycling events for its employees and community. Events have included hosting recycling collection points for electronics, tires, clothing, and shoes.
The company also runs an agricultural plastic recycling program in conjunction with Terrecon, which recycles the waste into plastic sidewalk and garden pavers. This program resulted in the initial annual collection of over 56,000 pounds of agricultural plastic.
WATER USE REDUCTION
Chico Natural Foods Co-op (Chico, CA) shows that small changes can lead to big impacts! After identifying the need for a critical upgrade in their produce case, the co-op purchased a more efficient model. Another small change — reducing the water they use to fill their produce sink for vegetable prepping by 25 percent. The results? A reported 40 percent reduction in their annual water use!
MOM’s Organic Market – MOM’s Organic Market Bans the sale of Bottled Water