In Wisconsin, and much of the continental United States and Canada, we are currently enjoying what is shaping up to be the one of the mildest winters in the history of recorded weather statistics. Meteorologists say that January 2012 temperatures were an average of three to four degrees above normal, while snowfall was the least since the also-mild winter of 2006. Canada had the second lowest snowfall amount in 50 years. I’m writing this on the Saturday after Groundhog Day. It’s sunny and 43 degrees outside, and I’ve been walking to work all week in my lighter jacket, without a hat.

The meteorologists aren’t ready to say it’s global warming. They say there’s a difference between weather, that we experience everyday, and climate, that is conditions measured over the longer term. Evidently, our mild winter is being caused by unusual wind patterns. The Arctic Oscillation, jet stream winds that in more normal years bring cold and snow down from the North Pole to North America, this year instead are pushing extreme cold to Europe, while the U.S. and Canada are staying dry and warm.

Maybe it’s just weather, not climate change, but coincidentally in January 2012, the USDA released a revised hardiness zone map – the map that divides the United States into zones, as a guide for gardeners on what to plant and when to plant, based on the coldest temperatures experienced in different regions of the United States. The 2012 hardiness zone map is about a half zone warmer than the last one issued in 1990. USDA cautions that the changes are not due to global warming, and can be attributed to better mapping technology. Instead, the hardiness zones map is based on 30 years of data, from 1976–2005, calculated from the lowest daily minimum temperature recorded. Still, to the casual observer, the new map indicates a warming trend.

Despite the meteorologists’ disclaimers, for those of us who are worriers, it’s really hard not to attribute the mild weather to some imminent climate disaster. It’s almost impossible for us to take the long view while we are in the midst of experiencing such a warm winter. Not only is it difficult for us as individuals to separate weather from climate, it’s also hard not to feel helpless. What can we as individuals do to ameliorate what seem to be such alarming patterns in our weather (if not our climate)? Willy Street Co-op to the rescue!

Committed to Sustainability
Our Co-op is committed to sustainability in every aspect of its operations. For example, the Willy East building is the first Wisconsin co-op store to receive an Energy Star Label, which means that the most efficient means of heating and lighting are employed in the store. The eastside building also uses solar panels on the roof to pre-heat water. Both the east and west stores have charging stations for electric cars. In fact, all of the Willy Street Co-op buildings—the eastside store, the westside store and the Production Kitchen—are, in a sense, recycled. All three facilities are located in existing buildings that were remodeled to suit the Co-op’s needs rather than costly new constructions, that often have a larger energy footprint, and can lead to urban sprawl.

There’s also a sustainability committee, established by the General Manager, currently working on defining a sustainable baseline for the Co-op. Some of the areas the committee is looking to focus on are Energy, Food Systems, Financial Accessibility, and Packaging. The committee’s draft purpose statement is “The purpose of the WSGC Sustainability Committee is to provide guidance to Co-op owners, Board of Directors, and Staff that will help the Co-op operate in a way that preserves the health of our planet for future generations.” See the Sustainable Store section on the website for even more: www.willystreet.coop/our_sustainable_practices.

On the inside of the Co-op’s buildings, the products we buy are sourced locally, reducing transportation costs. Local producers who drive biodiesel-fueled trucks deliver some products. Furniture and fixtures in the stores are repaired and recycled—such as the aisle signs at Willy West, some of which are made from old wooden doors. Even the cleaning products used are selected to have as low an impact on the environment—and people!—as possible.

In addition to sustainable practices in store operations, Willy Street Co-op offers education and resources to ease the worried minds of owners. Recently, Middleton’s Sustainable Committee began Green Thursdays at Willy West. Green Thursdays is an effort to educate the community about environmental issues and features a movie followed by a discussion. It is held on the first Thursday of each month. The first Green Thursday included a showing of Fresh (freshthemovie.com) in the Community Room, followed by an opportunity for attendees to discuss what they’d seen. Both stores have packed schedules of events and classes designed to teach owners the skills they need to prepare healthful, locally sourced meals. For more, see Green Tips on the website: www.willystreet.coop/green_tips.

So are you still doing enough to offset global climate change? Maybe not, but you can take comfort in knowing that simply by being an Owner at Willy Street Co-op, your efforts to save the planet are combined with the efforts of other like-minded Co-op Owners, multiplying what you can do by a factor of more than 28,000!

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