Brainstorming ways to green your store? Though shoppers in some regions of the country are more sensitive to environmental issues than others, natural products retailers from the East to the West Coast are leading the way toward saving energy and cutting down on waste. The Natural Foods Merchandiser talked to a handful of retailers to find the latest steps they're taking to save the planet.
- Ozark Natural Foods is located in the heart of a "very active, very enlightened community" in Fayetteville, Ark., says owner services and marketing manager Roger Hill. A nonprofit sustainability center opened in town recently to encourage residents to choose more sustainable lifestyles. And for its part, the store just hired an environmental consultant to look at everything from replacing the store's heating, air conditioning and refrigeration units with more energy-efficient equipment, to replacing light bulbs. Its owners are also considering installing a reflective roof and a second set of doors in the vestibule for added energy savings. "We're really right now in the baby steps," Hill says. "We're going to approach this in a scientific and professional manner. We'll look at cost, energy savings. We're really interested in doing everything we can. It's a combination of saving money and, of course, the environmental aspect." Meanwhile, the store also recycles and gives away cotton grocery bags.
- Richie Samar, owner of Garden Gate Natural Foods in Allentown, Pa., is a do-it-yourself kind of guy. Every week or so he goes to the bookstore to look up information on the latest in energy efficiency and sustainability. Then when something in the store has to be replaced, he figures out how to find the best products. He installed energy-saving T5 lighting and is also planning to replace the store's large front windows with insulating double-paned glass. When it comes time to paint, he uses low-VOC paints. He installed extra insulation in the refrigeration units, walls and roof. And when he's ready to rip up the flooring, he says he'll switch to carpet with nontoxic, biodegradable glue. The cost savings? "I have no idea," Samar says. "I do it piecemeal as needed. I look at the most current stuff in green building and integrate it as I can."
- New York may be the epicenter of commerce and culture, but green? Not so much—at least according to Howard Chasser, owner of Jandi's Natural Market and Organic Café on Long Island. The store pays for all its own recycling, from the 500 to 700 boxes it goes through each month to everything else that's collected in recycling bins but doesn't go into the garbage. "Our customers haven't been real receptive" to the store's efforts to replace plastic bags with paper or fabric bags, he says. "It's not like the West Coast." Still, "We try to pay attention," Chasser says. Building the store's new location four years ago, he chose nontoxic sealer and low-VOC paint. In offices and other lesser-used areas of the store, lights have motion sensors. To cut down on plastic use from bottled water, Jandi's is installing a water filtration system. "We're always trying to do the right thing—for our customers, for the environment and for the world."
- The name of The Sunspot Natural Market in Kokomo, Ind., makes it a natural for solar panels, says owner Joan Kelsey. The store recently won a $25,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to install photovoltaic panels. It's expensive and "we couldn't have done it without the grant," Kelsey says. But that's just the beginning of her plans to green The Sunspot from top to bottom—literally. Kelsey is planning to grow a green roof, putting plants on the flat roof to help with rainwater runoff. "I'm going to have a garden up there, too—grow organic tomatoes," she says. She's also looking into installing plant material in the parking lot. The store is investigating whether full-spectrum lights are available for lighting fixtures, and uses recycled toilet paper and natural soaps in the restrooms. Plus, customers get discounts when they use the store's cotton grocery bags.
Barb and John Hoffman, owners of GreenAcres Market in Wichita, Kan., are continually working to do the right thing for the environment. But sometimes the right thing melts. The store completely did away with petroleum-based packaging in its deli, opting instead for corn-based containers. "But the customers complained that it melted in the microwave," Barb says with a laugh. "And the cost was exorbitant—sometimes close to double [those of plastic containers]." So GreenAcres backed off a little, and now uses about 70 percent corn-based packaging. As far as green building techniques, GreenAcres' building is about 15 years old and "we're limited in some of the things we can do," John says. But they replace equipment that goes out with more energy-efficient units. The owners have discussed getting rid of plastic grocery bags in favor of paper, "but here in the Midwest, the movement is not as strong," Barb says. Because the community is "a little short on recycling support," John says the store uses its own trucks to haul its cardboard to recycling centers. "And every Friday, one of our employees loads up the trunk of her car with stuff to recycle."
Definitions of the 'right' ingredient are changing.
Jane Hoback is a Denver-based freelance writer.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIX/number 3/p. 52,56