The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Corporate Sustainability

Corporate Sustainability

Sustainability

September 28, 2008

Forty-one percent of retailers currently have corporate sustainability programs in place, according to the Food Marketing Institute (FMI). Research presented at first ever Food Industry Sustainability Summit in June also revealed that an additional 14.7% plan to start one soon.
 
Jeanne von Zastrow, Senior Director of Field Services and Head of Sustainability Initiatives for FMI, says that companies are making becoming sustainable a priority because of triple bottom line returns for “people, planet and profit.” She says that supermarkets have always been good corporate citizens, and that they, along with most businesses, recognize that sustainability is a serious issue that must be addressed proactively.
 
“Supermarkets want to do the right thing for their communities and their customers,” von Zastrow says. “They are visionary enough to see that we live in times of increasingly scarce natural resources, so they are acting today with new strategies that will maximize and preserve resources.”
 
Green building is an important goal for 21.6% of retailers, says FMI, especially when corporate green programs promote the well-being of both the company’s bottom lineand the environment. More than 17% of retailers have a “sustainable building” team. Another 25.5% will form one in the future.
 
When it comes to reducing their impact on the environment, retailers are focusing on refrigeration management, store design, landscaping techniques, transportation efficiencies, packaging and recycling. To help achieve these goals, eight percent of retailers have become certified under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. Twenty percent plan on building a LEED-certified store within the next five years. Still others are using LEED guidelines to help make their structuresmore environmentally responsible, healthier and profitable without going the way of certification.
 
“Our survey data shows that many companies are incorporating elements of green building into their remodels and new construction,” says Anne-Marie Roerink, FMI Director of Research. “We see a sharp growth in green building.”
 
Internal waste reduction programs are pretty well-established industry-wide. Among those using these programs, 98.7% recycle cardboard; 67.5% recycle plastics. Refrigeration efforts are topping the list as well. Retailers identify refrigeration management as the number one way to save on energy; 78.7% of retailers already have one of these programs in place.
 
“Most supermarkets are focusing on what they can control ‘within their own four walls’. Once they identify opportunities and begin to implement sustainable practices within their companies, they naturally will be looking to their supply chain partners to also identify ways to preserve and conserve natural resources,” says von Zastrow.
 
The promotion of permanent shopping bags is another hot trend, with 93.5% of retailers offering reusable bags, and 55.7% of retailers offering an incentive (like money back) when one of these bags is used. With a potential industry total savings of $4 billion annually, it’s encouraging to note that 44% percent of consumers are using their bags at least a few times a month.
 
FMI's Sustainability Task Force has recommended a bag policy that was adopted by the FMI board of directors in May of 2008. This industry policy advocates reducing the use of plastic and paper bags and helping customers to maximize use of reusable bags.
 
“Reusable shopping bags are a clear winner and a direct link to the consumer,” saysRoerink. “Currently nine in ten stores offer reusable bags for sale and each store sells hundreds of bags each week. Members tell us they have a hard time keeping them in stock. By prominently displaying reusable bags throughout the store and at checkout areas, stores are definitely getting the message out.”
 
Although customer attitudes toward corporate sustainability vary somewhat across populations – young, educated consumers with higher incomes tend to spend more on sustainable products and solutions – it’s clear that the majority of shoppers approve. Sixty-two percent of shoppers value their primary store’s efforts in the areas of recycling and sustainability.
 
“Grocery stores have a very special role in the community. Year after year, they are voted among the most trusted industries. In an economic environment where shoppers are more willing than ever to switch stores to save money, intangible benefits from efforts in sustainability can go a long way in building loyalty beyond price alone,” adds Roerink.
 
From reducing costs to improving community relations, going green is simply good business. In upcoming issues, we will feature interviews with food companies that are making strides in their sustainability efforts. If you are interested in telling us more about what your company is doing to get involved please contact Allison Bloom atallison@foodnutritionscience.com.