The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

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

Sustainability Series: Publix

Sustainability Series: Publix


June 28, 2009

Publix is one of the largest employee-owned supermarket chains in the United States, boasting retail sales of $23.9 billion in 2008 and a current employee count of more than 140,000. With 1,002 supermarkets throughout Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee, Publix prides itself on being a premier quality food retailer that passionately focuses on customer value. We talked to Publix’s sustainability team about the smart choices they make to enrich the quality of life of their associates, their customers and the planet.

 How does your business define sustainability?

In the broadest sense, sustainability means balancing the needs of humanity with the needs of the living earth. At Publix, we work on finding that balance every day by focusing on the three Ps of sustainability – people, planet and prosperity – in all of our business decisions. In other words, our continued success (or “prosperity”) depends on meeting today’s demands without compromising what is essential for tomorrow (“people” and “planet”). That’s why Publix got into a Green Routine in 2001 – long before being eco-savvy was chic. 
How are you incorporating sustainable practices into your business?

In 2001, Publix created “Get Into a Green Routine”, a program for environmental responsibility. The program began with education and emphasis on energy conservation, and has extended to waste reduction, recycling, and conservation of other resources, including water. This program is designed to encourage environmentally responsible habits our associates can use at work and at home. As Florida's largest employer, we believe encouraging our associates to be aware of their consumption habits at home (as well as establishing policies at work) can make a difference.

To ensure that we are focusing on sustainability across the entire enterprise, we have developed various cross-function teams to drive progress and measure success. These teams include a Lighting Steering Team that looks for new technologies and designs that can be retrofitted into existing buildings or incorporated into new construction; the Green Routine Team that focuses on associate education and the promotion of sustainable behaviors; the Sustainability Quality Control Team that evaluates new ideas, promotes sustainable initiatives and tracks progress; and the Core Sustainability Team comprised of associates at the decision making level who direct the overall direction of the corporate sustainability programs in order to drive progress.
What are your short-term and long-term goals?

Our short-term goals are typically focused on resource conservation. These goals are typically for internal tracking purposes only. We consistently meet or exceed our short-term goals, which include reduction in the use of water, energy conservation, waste reduction, and improved recycling. Since 2001 we have saved close to 940 million kilowatt hours of electricity through various lighting, refrigeration and other conservation projects, which equals a reduction of more than 500,000 tons of greenhouse gas (carbon dioxide) or enough kilowatt hours to power 65,300 homes for a year (assuming the typical home uses 1,200 kWh a month for a year). In 2008 our company-wide recycling rate was 42 percent. That year we recycled 215,000 tons of cardboard, which helped save approximately 3.7 million trees, and 1.5 billion gallons of water – as well as 645,000 cubic yards of landfill space. In addition, we recycled 6,700 tons of plastic, which combined with our cardboard recycling, saved approximately 2.4 million barrels of oil.

In the long term we hope to help our associates and our customers adopt more sustainable behaviors at work and at home. Through U.S. Environmental Protection Agency programs such as GreenChill and the Climate Leaders Partnership, we are helping our industry evaluate new technologies, set more stringent emission reduction goals, promote carbon reduction initiatives, and lower our own company-wide carbon footprint. We are also working with our suppliers to identify sustainable product and packaging options.
Where do you think you’ll have the biggest impact?

We have already made a big impact by reducing electricity usage by seven percent in existing stores and 23 percent in new store designs since 2002. This is helping us to significantly reduce our overall carbon footprint. This year, we’re turning our focus to water conservation and finding new ways to recycle organic matter, such as spoiled produce and stale bread. But in the long term, perhaps the biggest impact we will have will be the work we are doing in partnership with other retailers, suppliers and environmental groups. These efforts are focused on finding new and better ways for whole industries to operate that will hopefully have far reaching benefits.
How do you measure your progress?

We have a cross-functional quality control team whose main purpose is to measure and track progress in support of our corporate-wide sustainability program. We not only track the big items such as carbon footprint and recycling rate, we look for smaller opportunities that may have been overlooked. Every Publix associate has the opportunity to submit ideas through one of several online tools. What we often find is that a small idea submitted by one associate can become a big deal once we get all 140,000 associates onboard. Another example of progress measurement is the monthly “Exception Report” that goes out to every Publix Super Market. This report details the store’s energy use, water use and recycling, which helps the store track their progress toward meeting goals. It also establishes a competitive atmosphere that helps to drive progress.
Why are sustainable business practices important to the consumer?

Consumer research clearly shows that our customers want green options. They are very interested in living a more sustainable lifestyle and making healthier food choices. We are responding to our customers by offering a wide variety of organic and environmentally-friendly products such as GreenWise private label; providing convenient paper, plastic and Styrofoam recycling stations at every Publix Super Market; working with suppliers to provide sustainable product and packaging options; and offering reusable bag options that are inexpensive and convenient at checkout.

Why are sustainable business practices important to the food industry?

Our customers depend on us to have products that they need and want at an affordable price. Publix works hard to make our fresh products available at the quality and price our customers expect, whenever they expect it. While we source close to home as much as possible, we also consider what our customers want. If not available locally, we then look to the state, regional, national and global levels. When possible, providing locally grown products allows us to save on transportation costs, which also reduces our carbon footprint. Sustainability in the food industry ensures product is available for a long time, which contributes to business success.
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