Green Mission of Whole Foods Market

Many of us love WholeFoods for the quality of produce (always fresh) and the in-store experience (always delightful). But for many of us, there is a third important factor that makes us choose Whole Foods over its competitors, a factor that aligns this grocery store brand even closer to its mission of high standards – the commitment to sustainability.

Whole Foods is not content to just be compliant with sustainability requirements; it truly sets the bar for sustainability practices for consumers, competitors and even companies across industries. Whole Foods is leading the charge in sustainability activism across three main dimensions: suppliers, product sourcing, and energy independence.

Many of us love WholeFoods for the quality of produce (always fresh) and the in-store experience (always delightful). But for many of us, there is a third important factor that makes us choose Whole Foods over its competitors, a factor that aligns this grocery store brand even closer to its mission of high standards – the commitment to sustainability.

Whole Foods is not content to just be compliant with sustainability requirements; it truly sets the bar for sustainability practices for consumers, competitors and even companies across industries. Whole Foods is leading the charge in sustainability activism across three main dimensions: suppliers, product sourcing, and energy independence.

Investing in the supply chain: supporting its suppliers.
It’s obvious as we walk through the aisles that the company cares about who they work with, but not everybody realizes that they are offering $8 million in annual small interest loans to small organic farmers annually. Whole Foods understands the link between organic farming and its effects on reversing climate change. The soil has a unique ability to reverse climate change but only when the health of the soil is maintained through regenerative organic agriculture [1].

[2]

Packing and product sourcing: taking a stand on GMOs, palm oil, sustainable seafood, and bulk packaging.Whole Foods is leading by example by putting in place progressive measures designed to protect and preserve our environment. They became the first grocery chain in the US committed to always explicitly labeling GMO products because Whole Foods believes that customers have the right to know. Today you can find over 30,000 organic and 13,500 Non-GMO Project Verified products at Whole Foods. [3] Because palm oil production contributes to deforestation of tropical rain forest ecosystems around the world, Whole Foods strictly limits usage of palm oil to only Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certified sustainable oil products amongst its suppliers. [4] Greenpeace ranked Whole Foods first place for the third year in a row in its “Carting Away the Oceans” report. [5] Not only Whole Foods is selling only sustainable seafood across all departments [6], the company also is calling on the US government to enforce laws against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, as well as urging protection of the Bering Sea Canyons. However, Greenpeace is still calling Whole Foods to stop selling Chilean Sea Bass, which Greenpeace includes on its list of threatened species.

Commitment to alternative energy sources, electric vehicles and biodiesel.
The Wind and solar energy play an important role in company’s sustainability strategy. By using wind energy, Whole Foods are avoiding 551,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution. This is equivalent to not consuming 1,200,000 barrels of oil or avoiding the annual electricity usage of 65,000 average-sized homes.[4] Solar power is also used to supplement traditional power sources in stores. As of 2015, Whole Foods was using solar power in about 25 stores, which over time will result in more than 2.2 million kilowatt hours produced and saved and over 1,650 tons of-of CO2 emissions avoided. [4] In addition, Whole Foods created 45 electric vehicle charging stations at various stores and is working on additional 31 in 2016-2017. [4] also, truck fleet is being converted to biodiesel fuels, which will result in lower GHG emissions.

Without a doubt, climate change will continue to have a direct impact on Whole Foods, as more and more farmers and produce suppliers get affected by extreme weather and droughts. But if anyone is on the right track to having its sustainability game figures out, it’s Whole Foods.

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[1] http://rodaleinstitute.org/reversing-climate-change-achievable-by-farming-organically/

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WB6324afWrA#t=21

[3] http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/gmo-your-right-know

[4] http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/mission-values/environmental-stewardship/green-mission

[5] http://www.treehugger.com/corporate-responsibility/whole-foods-tops-greenpeace-sustainable-seafood-report.html

[6] http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/department/seafood

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17 thoughts on “Green Mission of Whole Foods Market

  1. One significant way Whole Foods could help curb greenhouse gas emissions could be through consumer education. Livestock, for instance, accounts for 14.5% of all emissions, and beef and sheep are the biggest culprits. As CNN.com columnist John Sutter put it, “Eating beef…has come to be seen, rightly, in certain enviro circles, as the new SUV — a hopelessly selfish, American indulgence; a middle finger to the planet.” (http://www.cnn.com/2015/09/29/opinions/sutter-beef-suv-cliamte-two-degrees/). There is an opportunity for Whole Foods to raise awareness and teach customers that chicken, pork, seafood, and eating vegetarian are much more sustainable meat choices. The company could also indicate carbon footprints for produce to make it easy for customers to discern the environmental impacts of their choices.

    1. Brilliant points! Agree. Maybe we should write an open letter to Whole Foods? I am serious.

  2. Consumers claim to care about sustainability and the impact of their product choices on ecosystems and greenhouse gas emissions, but even more compelling for consumers is the belief that sustainable products are also better for their health. Whole Foods has aligned these dual benefits for consumers by allowing them to feel good about their environmental impact and good about buying Whole Foods products for the health of their families. The green initiatives they are pursuing around wind and solar power has become table stakes for competing grocery stores such as Safeway. The real competitive advantage for Whole Foods facing climate change will be sourcing produce and other products from local organic producers. Thus, I think the micro-loans to organic farms are a great way to set up the company for future success.

    1. Great point. Indeed, this is such a great competitive advantage for them. Imagine what the impact could be if all companies saw environmental responsibility as an advantage? Hope Whole Foods can lead the charge for all retailers and corporations to follow.

  3. As a Whole Foods consumer, I’m very glad to hear the company is making concerted steps toward supply chain sustainability. As a large-scale buyer on the market, they have consolidated power to enforce high-quality standards on their suppliers, and it is encouraging to hear that they are using this position (as IKEA does) to create trickle-down sustainability benefits throughout the chain.

    That being said, I agree with Brian’s point above that there is certainly more they can and should do. In addition to shaping upstream players, they could play a more active role in shaping downstream actors such as their consumers, nudging them toward more sustainable products. Also, they should consistently phase out the products that are not up to scratch (e.g. red and orange rating meats) to continue to push suppliers to meet higher and higher standards. Finally, they should place a higher emphasis on locally produced and sourced foods – I am always skeptical to see perfect summer watermelons on their shelves in winter. Through a combination of consumer education (“be an educated consumer – don’t buy watermelon in winter!”) and a shift toward local, cyclical product stocking, Whole Foods could move from an “industrial organic” player to a truly “cutting-edge organic” player.

    1. Great point, I completely agree. As consumers we lack education and discipline in many cases during purchase moment, and retailers can/should step in to generate more impactful change. I am sure there is tension between profitability growth and being strict on supplier requirements, so it will be interesting to see how this dynamics plays out over the next few years and decades.

  4. I would be interested to see how Whole Foods deals with food waste at their stores. I’ve read that in Massachusetts it’s illegal to dispose usable food and require businesses to convert waste into energy – so presumably the MA Whole Foods already has this implemented. If Whole Foods could be a leader in this movement across the United States by pushing all their stores to participate, they could become the true leader in reducing carbon footprints in addition to all the sustainability measures they take in the stores.

    1. This is a great point! I totally agree. In America, unlike most other contras, food waste is out of control. I did some more digging and looks like they are taking measures to be responsible on the waste front. Looks like they are striving to be zero waste, the donate a ton, and composite. Seems like a good start.

      https://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/service/what-happens-our-waste

  5. I agree with the previous comments that Whole Foods can do more in helping consumers choose more sustainable food categories. Given that food system emissions could account for as much as quarter of all human emissions, shifting consumers to foods with similar nutritional values but lower carbon footprints could make a big difference. For example, a consumer eating beef and lamb as the primary source of protein emits almost 4x as much carbon as a consumer eating chicken, fish and pork as their primary source of protein. Perhaps the nutritional labeling of the future should also include some information on the sustainability of the food production process to help consumers make wiser food choices for the environment.

    1. This is a brilliant idea! I actually totally agree. This labelling can be really powerful. In fact, one of my good girlfriends who has always been a meat eater watched a documentary about how beef production contributes to green house gas levels and became VEGAN overnight. She has been eating vegan for 6 months now, and I know it is the power of information and getting more educated on the points your brought up.

  6. As a Whole Foods buff myself, I thank you for sharing this! I had no idea organic food helps regenerate soil! I think there’s a huge lack of information around what things like ‘organic’ and ‘non-GMO’ mean and I also believe Whole Foods can help customers understand their food choices better. I usually err on the side of organic and non-GMO certified food with the thought that natural is better. A few days ago I came across this article https://medium.com/@BioChicaGMO/were-scientists-we-re-moms-and-we-avoid-non-gmo-products-33bc0aa351a3#.6l66wjgf6 which made me re-think my position. As a scientist, I haven’t quite distilled my position on the issue yet but I do wish I could read more about the research behind the debate arguments.

    1. I know, I wish we had more access to relevant information on these topics. Obviously, the responsibility is on us, but how helpful would it be to get help from retailers and others in the chain. Also, we should figure out how to make InstaCart more environmentally friendly. They have a close partnership with WF but are wasteful with bags/packaging.

  7. Its great to learn that organic food can help regenerate the soil. Whole foods can also take a drive to educate consumers about food wastage. They can also educate consumers to use personal bottles and containers , thereby avoiding usage of plastic containers and bottles , which are not recyclable.

    1. Yeah, would be good to start developing a discipline of bringing our own containers to the store. Thanks for bringing this up!

  8. Thanks for the great post, Iryna!

    I value the role that Whole Foods is playing in bridging the gap between sustainable producers of food and consumers willing to pay more for those products. It’s a race to the top and one which benefits many stakeholders, suppliers, Whole Foods, consumers, the planet. One additional area of opportunity that I see is identifying ways for Whole Foods to create certain segments of products which are more economically accessible to a mass market but still produced with sustainable practices. Not all products in the store could fit this description but I see tremendous opportunity for Whole Foods to increase environmental impact in a positive way if it worked with suppliers to identify sustainable foods which could also be priced at accessible levels for a mass market.

    1. So true! I especially appreciate it now, as a student. Organic does not need to be expensive. This is a huge area for them and a way to increase influence.

  9. What an interesting read, thanks Iryna!! I had no idea they restricted the products they carried with Palm Oil to those with RSPO certified ones. It’s great to see that they are using their bargaining power to enforce high standards on their suppliers. People have made great comments about educating shoppers on the effects of their meat choices those effects on climate change, Whole Foods could also help educate users make informed quantity decisions. “About 95 percent of the food we throw away ends up in landfills or combustion facilities. In 2013, we disposed more than 35 million tons of food waste.” (https://www.epa.gov/recycle/reducing-wasted-food-home). Helping users make better purchasing quantity decisions might be another step they can take.

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