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Sustainability at the Co-op

You may have read the remarkable news that of the waste generated during our Annual Meeting and Party, an event attended by over 4,000 people, only 57 pounds of garbage ended up in the landfill—the remaining waste was composted or recycled. That 57 pounds represented only 6% of the total amount of waste created!

That effort is only one small example of the many ways your Co-op strives to be sustainable. When we say “sustainable” we are all-inclusive—sustainable in our energy consumption, sustainable in the products we selectto sell, sustainable in finances, sustainable in people. For the past 2+ years, a team of staff and experts has been meeting as the Sustainability Committee, taking a look at all aspects of our organization with an eye toward improving our ability to run a sustainable business. They’ve been looking at how our vendors grow their food, how the packaging used in the store can be less wasteful, how our human resources policies and procedures can create a strong, sustainable team, and how our stores and offices can reduce their energy consumption and shift its sourcing to renewables.

At our August meeting, the Board of Directors saw the first report generated as a result of the Sustainability Committee’s work—and it is impressive!

  • In the Produce department, 98% of all items sold are certified organic! Those items that are not certified organic don’t have an organic variety available, but are purchased from producers using sustainable methods.

  • All eggs sold in the stores are from humane producers, and most come from farms that allow chickens access to fresh pasture.

  • The solar thermal water heater installed at Willy East in 2010 has saved approximately three tons of CO2 emissions annually. Willy East also purchases about 12,000 kilowatt hours of wind energy each year.[1]

  • We’ve been able to recycle all of our old computers, registers and other electronics—many through Cascade Asset Management, which refurbishes and resells them or through recycling. Of all those electronics, less than 1% has ended up in a landfill.

  • In our work to be financially accessible, and help our shoppers be financially sustainable themselves, we currently offer Access discounts to 1,026 Owners.

  • Our Grocery buyers scrutinize the packaging, as well as the production methods for all products we sell, aiming to work solely with vendors who themselves follow sustainable methods.

In this report, we’ve set ourselves several benchmarks, which we’ll measure annually to assess progress toward our sustainability goals for our community, our environment and economic equity. We’ve had Madison Gas & Electric conduct energy audits at both stores, so we can see how future and continuing efforts to reduce energy consumption are having impacts. We are looking at our vendors for their labor policies, to ensure they are fair and equitable for workers. Staff are tracking the impact on energy use from the recently installed night covers on the Produce coolers. In September, a partnership with Purple Cow Organics began collecting compostable waste to recycle into fertilizer.

For my part, I will continue to bring my canvas shopping bags, and I pledge to ride my bike to the store more frequently. My rain barrel saved my tomato plants during last year’s drought, and my chickens enjoy all the bits and pieces of fresh fruit and veggies left over from meals. But my efforts pale in comparison to everything going on at the Co-op toward sustainability from farm to shelf and in all areas of operation.

For a more detailed look at our Sustainability Report, see Stephanie Rickett’s article on pages 20-21.
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