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Celebrating Sustainability on Earth Day while Committing to Sustainability Every Day

Sustainability is a core value and principle that guides the Willy Street Co-op every day. The Co-op’s mission statement includes reference to an economically and environmentally sustainable cooperative that supports local and organic suppliers. The vision statement is simply, “cooperating for a sustainable future.” The concept of sustainability has a seemingly infinite application. As the famed naturalist, founder of the Sierra Club, and Wisconsin resident John Muir said, “when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” The various elements of sustainability have this “hitched” feeling and it becomes clear that environmental sustainability is linked to the sustainability of human resources, which are linked again to sustaining a thriving community. The Co-op therefore evaluates its commitment to sustainability with three pillars, or the so-called “triple bottom line”: vibrant community (people), healthy environment (planet), andeconomic equity (profit). Holly Fearing, the Co-op’s Board President, discussed the specific language of the Co-op Sustainability policy in her March Reader report. This article continues on the foundation that she built.

Each year when Owners participate in the annual survey (which by the way, will be in next month’s Reader!) we are reminded how important sustainability is to you. By a landslide, Owners identify “locally sourced” as the most important quality in products, and Owners rank sustainable farming and environment and conservation as the most important areas for co-op outreach.

As we look forward to celebrating Earth Day this month, we wanted to give you an inside view of how concepts of sustainability inform just about every single decision made at the Co-op. From finding local products on Co-op shelves, to appreciating new conservation initiatives, to ensuring Co-op staff make a fair wage and have access to programs to enhance their wellness, we want you to take pride in the measures your Co-op is taking to make our community and our environment healthy and to know how you can help. Detailed below are highlights from the past year that demonstrate just how committed the Co-op is to a thriving and sustainable community.

1. Committing to local food
Local purchasing chartOne of the most exciting and fulfilling aspects of working at a local foods cooperative like Willy Street Co-op is supporting the production of sustainable local food. In the Madison area we have exceptional growers, bakers, innovators and makers whose products we are proud to offer in our stores. The sales numbers for local products prove our Owners’ enthusiasm and commitment to supporting local producers. In 2014, our Co-op purchased products from 127 local producers, including 46 local farms.

Willy Street Co-op also supports the production of local foods in other ways, like our partnerships with the FEED Kitchens and Innovation Kitchens. In 2013 the Co-op and Owners raised over $32,650 to support the opening of FEED Kitchens, a food business incubator and small-scale production facility on Madison’s northside. This past year we’ve also begun partnering with Innovation Kitchen in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, a commercial kitchen and co-packing facility whose owners have a strong interest in sourcing local produce and “stabilizing” it for winter use. This opens up the potential for more local food offerings during our long winter months, and enabled us to offer nearly 100% local pumpkin and apple pies during the holiday season. We’re excited to continue working with Innovation Kitchen in 2015 so keep an eye out for quite a few products born out of this partnership!

2. Reducing waste
As those of you who shop regularly at Willy East can attest, 2014 was the Year of the Remodel! Carefully managing the waste generated by this major project was a primary focus for our LEED consultant, Kelly Humphry. Overall, we recycled 95% of the remodel project’s waste, with 461.1 tons of material recycled and only 17.65 tons of trash hauled to the landfill since December 2013.

Food packaging is also a core consideration when evaluating ways to reduce waste. The Co-op offers plant-based, recycled waxed paper, and fully recyclable PET container options. In addition, the Kitchen and both East and West use Eco-Foil, a 100% recyclable and reusable material.

3. Empowering owners and staff to maximize wellness
Willy Street Co-op follows the Seven Cooperative Principles (find out all about them at Principle Five states that “Cooperatives provide education and training for members, elected representatives, managers and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperative….” We take this principle seriously, and strive to provide access to information and training that will enhance every Owner’s wellness and happiness. Toward that end, we offered the following resources in 2014 including (but definitely not limited to):

  • A list of products that participate in the Non-GMO project (revised frequently)

  • A bulk aisle guide and a series of free classes on how to shop the bulk aisle

  • Shelf tags noting 100% local, essentially local, locally prepared, organic and conventional sourcing

  • Corporate Ownership charts (available on our website)

We also began partnering with HowGood, a group that will provide independently verified producer responsibility ratings for our products. HowGood is currently evaluating our product list so look for more information in 2015!

Internally, the Co-op follows Principle Five in a number of ways geared toward empowering staff, both in their work at Willy Street Co-op and beyond. Our commitment to participatory management provides opportunities for staff to flex their governance muscles and develop leadership skills while effecting change in their workplace. In 2014 our Human Resources department rolled out the Pathways to Promotion Program. In a nutshell, the “pathways” are possible avenues to every position in the organization that are laid out in a mind-mapping format for all staff to use. The goal is to show staff what skills and knowledge are needed for promotion throughout the organization and to support internal promotion. We’re also continually expanding our staff trainings on food related topics as well as general wellness trainings, effective interviewing, crucial conversations and more.

4. Minimizing the co-op’s greenhouse gas footprint
In 2014 the Co-op established its first ever baseline measurement of its greenhouse gas footprint for each site using calculation methods from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It took nearly 12 months to get accurate and useful tracking methods in place to create a robust baseline in 2014. Moving forward, we can now compare our carbon footprint to years past and identify trends and hopefully report annual declines in emissions as we find more ways to reduce our impact. Each year we also look specifically at our energy consumption, which directly contributes to our carbon footprint. We’re hoping to see energy use decline as a result of various improvements made to Willy East during the remodel, including updated refrigeration equipment and new rooftop units for heating and air conditioning.

5. Preserving precious resources
Madison is a city surrounded by water and Willy Street Co-op is a business started on an isthmus, so no conversation about sustainability would be complete without addressing water use. Willy Street Co-op works to protect our local watershed by reducing stormwater runoff. At Willy East, the rain garden on the Jenifer Street side of the property was remediated at the end of the construction portion of the remodel project. At Willy West we mitigate a portion of our stormwater runoff using a rain barrel, which also supplies water for the outdoor plants at that location. In 2015 you’ll see additional rain barrels popping up at East and West.

By the way, using a rain barrel at home is a simple and effective way that each of us can improve the quality of our beloved lakes. For years Sustain Dane was the expert of rain barrel procurement in Dane County, and they still have great info on their website! Go to to learn more.

6. Committing to learning and evolving
We are geeking out on sustainability data and reporting at Willy Street Co-op in an effort to fully understand our impact. National Cooperative Grocers hasalso provided a great new tool that helps us improve our tracking of internal metrics, like composting totals, donations, electrical use, and water use. The tool, called Sustainability Impact Measurement Software (SIMS) is being used by over 30 co-ops across the country. Willy Street Co-op staff enter information into SIMS on a monthly basis and by this time next year we’ll have over a full year of data in the system. This information will give us real measurements of the effectiveness of any sustainability initiatives we implement in 2015, and will allow us to compare our stats to other co-ops of similar size, geography, and ownership. Willy Street Co-op helped pilot the SIMS tool in 2013 and we continue to champion its usage.

Finally, staff at the Willy Street Co-op benefit from an informed and engaged membership that is committed to a sustainable community—it’s why you shop here! Please reach out with ideas for improving the Co-op’s role in achieving a triple bottom line of a vibrant community (people), healthy environment (planet), and economic equity (profit). If you have suggestions feel free to email Stephanie Ricketts at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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