Founded in 1978, Whole Foods Market (WFM) is a leading natural and organic foods supermarket chain with 464 stores and 87,000 employees in the US, UK and Canada .
As is the case with many companies, climate change presents several challenges (and some opportunities) to WFM, and the company must take steps now to prepare for the future.
Likely effects of climate change
The risks posed by climate change to businesses can be classified into six kinds, as illustrated below :
For WFM, price and product risks would likely be the most severe. WFM sources a wide variety of food products from 69 countries including the US. The price, availability, and quality of a range of food products will be increasingly adversely affected by climate change . For example, global crop prices are expected to be 20% higher in 2050 than they would have been without climate change . The effects on supermarkets could be amplified for carriers specializing in perishable and organic products like WFM, where perishable products accounted for 65% of FY 2015 sales . Extreme weather events such as heatwaves, droughts and floods are already causing losses in yields of food products, in turn affecting availability, quality and price. For example, a huge crop failure in 2014 in Turkey – the world’s largest producer of hazelnut (70% of global production) – led to a doubling of world market prices . WFM’s supply chain could also be disrupted by extreme weather events.
Aside from price and product threats, other key risks include:
- Increased energy costs (transportation and store operations) due to carbon regulations 
- Potential physical damage to infrastructure and other assets from extreme weather events 
Alongside these risks, there are two notable climate change-related opportunities that WFM could capitalize on:
- Concern about climate change has greatly increased the public appetite for environmentally friendly products, which are closely associated with WFM’s brand.
- Weather changes could increase WFM’s ability to source products locally, boosting its brand image. Global warming has extended the season length for growing certain products domestically, and has enabled some products that previously could only be sourced abroad to be grown closer to home .
Steps WFM is taking to address the impact of climate change
The main steps WFM is taking relate to efforts to reduce the company’s carbon footprint and dependence on fossil fuels . For example, WFM has taken steps to:
- Reduce waste in stores e.g. through composting, which has reduced landfill waste by up to 80% in some regions and resulted in zero waste in several stores
- Promote the use of renewable energy sources to power its operations, e.g.:
- Supplementing traditional power with renewable power
- Purchasing renewable energy credits from wind farms to offset 100% of the electricity used in all US and Canada stores and facilities (led to recognition by Environmental Protection Agency)
- Providing electric vehicle charging stations at its stores (45 as of 2015, with 31 more being built)
- Converting truck fleet to biodiesel fuels, and fitting trucks with fuel-saving systems
- Use green building techniques for store construction, e.g.:
- New stores are constructed in line with guidance from ‘Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design’ and ‘Green Globes’, resulting in special certification
- As of 2015, twenty Whole Foods’ stores had been awarded the Environmental Protection Agency’s GreenChill
- Strengthen brand association with environmental responsibility, e.g.:
- Often partners with non-profit environmental organizations e.g. it is currently partnering with Recycle For America 
- Offers CSR days for employees to volunteer for local clean-ups and non-profit conservation work
Additional steps that could be implemented
The main threat to WFM’s operations is price and product risks from exposure of its supplies to climate disasters, including the potential disruption of its supply chain. As such, the company needs to quantify the potential impact on its supplies by mapping its global fresh produce supply chain against models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This would allow it to place a value on the risks of climate change and develop appropriate strategies, such as identifying new locations to source products in at-risk areas or working with suppliers to improve their climate change resilience strategies. UK supermarket Asda did a similar mapping exercise and found that 95% of its entire fresh produce range is already at risk from climate change .
Additional steps WFM could introduce include:
- Conducting flood risk impacts for its stores and distribution centers
- Joining and persuade other retail partners to take the American Business Act on Climate Pledge 
 Whole Foods Market, Press Release, 2 November 2016. Available at: http://investor.wholefoodsmarket.com/investors/press-releases/press-release-details/2016/Whole-Foods-Market-Reports-Fourth-Quarter-and-Fiscal-Year-2016-Results/default.aspx
 McKinsey, “How companies can adapt to climate change”, July 2015. Available at: http://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/sustainability-and-resource-productivity/our-insights/how-companies-can-adapt-to-climate-change
 Business Social Responsibility, “Business Action for Climate-Resilient Supply Chains”, May 2015. p.14, Available at: https://www.bsr.org/reports/BSR_Report_Climate_Resilient_Supply_Chains.pdf ; Paloviita & Jarvela, “Climate Change Adaptation and Food Supply Chain Management” (New York: Routledge), 2015
 World Economic Forum, “The Global Risks Report 2016”, p51. Available at: http://reports.weforum.org/global-risks-2016/
 Whole Foods, “Annual report – 2015”, Available at: http://s21.q4cdn.com/118642233/files/doc_financials/2015/Annual/2015-WFM-Annual-Report.pdf
 WWF. “The consequences of climate change for the agricultural economy and consumers
with examples of selected products and their main growing countries”, October 2015, p5. Available at: http://wwf.panda.org/wwf_news/?256676/Climate-change-food
 Business Social Responsibility, “Business Action for Climate-Resilient Supply Chains”, May 2015, p.12. Available at: https://www.bsr.org/reports/BSR_Report_Climate_Resilient_Supply_Chains.pdf
 KPMG. “Climate Changes Your Business: Business Action for Climate-Resilient Supply Chains”, 2008, p26. Available at: www.kpmg.com/EU/en/Documents/Climate_Changes_Your_Business.pdf
 The Financial Times. “Climate: Growers and supermarkets face challenge of worsening weather.” November 20, 2012. Available at: https://www.ft.com/content/ba2fc410-29de-11e2-a5ca-00144feabdc0
 Whole Foods Market. “Environmental Stewardship: Our Green Mission”, Available at: http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/mission-values/environmental-stewardship/green-mission
 Food Weekly News, “Recycle Across America; Whole Foods Market North Atlantic Region Joins Recycle Across America’s “Leaders for Progress” Initiative to Help Reduce Global Waste”, May 28, 2015. Available at: http://search.proquest.com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/docview/1681975007?rfr_id=info%3Axri%2Fsid%3Aprimo
 Asda. “The Challenge of a Changing Climate.” 2014. Available at: http://your.asda.com/system/dragonfly/production/2014/06/17/15_38_19_612_4234_Climate_Resilience_Campaign_a5_Brochure_v10.pdf