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United Natural Foods Inc.

UNFI unveils 2020 climate initiatives

The distributor is walking the talk by closely monitoring its climate impact and taking tangible actions to build a sustainable future.

The Climate Collaborative is profiling some of the newest companies stepping up to make commitments around its announcement of 150+ companies joining the network in 2020,.

UNFI solidified new commitments to energy efficiency, transportation and food waste through the Climate Collaborative on March 3, and the Climate Collaborative asked the distributor's senior sustainability manager, Alisha Real, to share some of the details regarding its ongoing work and upcoming climate projects, as well as where climate fits into its overall business plan.

The Climate Collaborative: We are so thrilled to have UNFI joining the growing community of companies taking action through the Climate Collaborative. Where does climate action fit into UNFI’s mission and priorities?

Alisha Real: UNFI is thrilled to join the Climate Collaborative and be part of such an important effort, bringing together the natural products industry to address climate change. We believe companies have a responsibility to act on this issue and that doing so isn’t just good for the planet, but good for business.

We’re very concerned about climate change and have been working for some time to evaluate and actively mitigate our impact. For us, this means taking a hard look at our fleet and our distribution centers to make sure we’re employing the most efficient technology, reducing waste and investing in renewable energy.

Climate action is front and center in UNFI’s mission and priorities. One of our core values speaks to this directly: “Feed the Planet: Better food comes from a healthy planet and we do our part." It’s ingrained in what we do every day, continuously "Building Better" for the future.

What current projects do you have that you’re proud of, looking back or looking forward—in transportation, energy efficiency, food waste and other climate work?

We’re very proud of our transparency, first and foremost. Through our disclosures to CDP and by using leading frameworks like SASB and GRI to develop our annual CSR reports, we learn a lot about our climate impact and where we need to focus our efforts. It’s so true that what’s measured gets managed.

In January, we released our 2019 Corporate Social Responsibility Report, sharing updates on our climate efforts, among other things.

One of our major initiatives is to reduce waste, particularly food waste, across our operations. In 2019, we conducted in-depth audits at 10 of our distribution centers, following the Food Loss and Waste (FLW) Protocol’s Accounting and Reporting Standard.

The results were extrapolated to all distribution centers, giving us valuable insight into our waste streams and the scale of this issue for our business. Now we have a baseline and we’re using this information to create a robust food waste reduction plan.

Also, this past year, we expanded our Ridgefield, Washington, distribution center by 541,000 square feet to meet the needs of our growing Pacific Northwest customer base. We used green building practices here that we expect will cut our energy use at that facility in half.

Are UNFI staff excited about the public commitments and work you’re doing?  How have you successfully built in climate action across the company?

We are. It’s exciting to be part of this movement. We truly are all in this together.

Over the past couple of years, we’ve created accountability for climate and environmental performance at the highest levels of our company–with direct oversight from our Board of Directors, CEO and Board Chairman. All of this has positioned us well to further embed sustainability into our business strategy and take meaningful action on climate. 

UNFI was at the forefront of sustainability disclosure 10 years ago and an early-adopter of solar, LEED design and natural gas-powered trucks. It’s part of our DNA, but this is a journey and we’re constantly working to better manage our environmental footprint. We’re a much larger company than we were two years ago and are just as committed to being good stewards of our planet, our communities, and our people.

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