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How 3 retailers put planet Earth firstHow 3 retailers put planet Earth first

In this critical climate-focused Natural Products Expo West session moderated by Lisa Spicka, associate director for the Sustainable Food Trade Association, learn what both the trade and three inspiring natural retailers have to share about their successes, failures and hopes for the future. Good news: It’s mostly positive.

4 Min Read
How 3 retailers put planet Earth first

"At Glen's we flip that [slotting] on its head: We put the products we care most about—that are doing the best by the environment and our community—in those prime slots so that we can help those businesses scale."

—Danielle Vogel, Glen's Garden Market

Part 1: Retailer climate impact

Highlights from Sheila Ongie, sustainability manager, National Co+op Grocers (NCG):

  • Co-ops average 13,000 square feet versus 50,000 square feet for supermarkets nationally. 

  • Learn what makes up a grocer's carbon footprint and the different scope levels.

  • Supplier emissions are a huge part of the footprint but are difficult to fully quantify in their entirety. 

  • Cold chain management can be very effective in reducing food waste. 

  • Refrigerants are short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) and it's easy to reduce your impact here.



Part 2: A quest to sell 100 percent organic

Highlights from Mark Squire, CFO, Good Earth Natural Foods:

  • The physical store-building stage is a key time to talk about and consider climate issues.

  • Agriculture is a huge piece of the climate problem, and organic agriculture is really the solution to so much of that. We should not be selling non-organic food.

  • If the average person ears organic vs. chemical, they divert 11,136 pounds of carbon, the equivalent of taking four cars off the road for a year. 

  • Avoid using plastic for anything. 

  • California's Marin Clean Energy (MCE) customers eliminated 185,751 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from 2010 to 2015 through Community Choice Aggregation (CCA). 


Part 3: Every decision has the environment in mind

Highlights from Danielle Vogel, founder, Glen's Garden Market: 

  • Glen's Garden Market only offers reusable bags. They're great advertising and waste mitigation strategy, and everyone who shops at our store leaves with one. 

  • The natural foods store is 100 percent solar powered and puts out no food waste. 

  • Good food from close by: almost every single thing sold is sourced from the states of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. That's how Glen's defines local. 

  • Vogel notes that Glen's Garden Market grows small businesses along with her own. On its shelves, Glen's has given 79 food retailers their very first chance to sell their products, and 44 of those are women-owned.

  • If you only put products on your shelves that share your values, then every choice is climate progressive. 


Part 4: The leverage of the co-op community

Highlights from Melissa Elkins, sustainability program coordinator, Community Food Co-op: 

  • Community Food Co-op follows a triple bottom line business philosophy since conception: people, planet and profit all play equals roles. 

  • The co-op diverts more than 550 tons of waste from landfill every year, roughly 1,200 metric tons of carbon dioxide avoided annually. 

  • Local spending has always been a core value: about $3 million of local purchases in 2017, with 75 percent coming from a five-county area.

  • By engaging your community, you're really promoting your values to a larger audience. 

  • Community Food Co-op's Our Farm Fund created to support local agriculture has provided more than $220,000 in grants and loans to local farmers since 2010. 


Part 5: Digging deeper into key climate initiatives 

Highlights : 

  • At time of installation in 2012, Community Food Co-op had one of the largest solar arrays in Whatcom County, Washington, and financial incentives played a large part in the viability of the project.

  • Community Food Co-op is one of the only Energy Star–certified grocery stores on the West Coast, and is also an EPA Green Power Partner Top 30 Retailer.

  • Glen’s Garden Market guarantees a healthy variety of vegetarian and vegan options on its prepared foods menus, and has significantly reduced the amount of carbon-intensive beef it uses as a result.

  • In 2017 Community Food Co-op made several refrigerant changes that resulted in a 43 percent carbon dioxide equivalent reduction.



Part 6: A few failures along the way, Q&A


  • Building construction was all about energy consumption and the challenges around that. HVAC contractors don’t get the urgency, and we encouraged as much “green” as we could, Squire said.

  • People don’t want to shop at 12 grocery stores, so we had to start carrying a few things outside our locally defined area, Vogel said.

  • It took several years to figure out exactly what our garbage weighs, Elkins said. Energy Star’s Portfolio Manager platform added a waste component that she now uses.

  • Start tracking and setting goals. You can’t manage what you don’t measure.

  • All of our produce signs have “miles to market” numbers, Squire said. It’s a way to encourage customers to take initiative and make their own choices.

  • If you’re a manufacturer, think about your sourcing standards. Replacing even one conventional item in your chain with an organic item makes an impact.

  • Have continual conversations with your staff and customers. The more you talk about it, the more ingrained it becomes in your business.

  • How to organize small stores and co-ops into a big powerhouse of change?

  • How are retailers dealing with sourcing products that don’t grow locally at all?

  • What is the role of retailers in supporting small international farmers?


This session—Climate Day Retailer Track: A Tale of Three Retailers—was recorded at Natural Products Expo West 2018. 

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