Last week, I blogged about sustainability initiatives in the retail sector, and a reader commented on the pressing need for food retailers to develop similar green programs and processes. It was a great point, and on that lead, I decided to keep the dialogue going by taking a look at the corporate websites of a few of the nation’s leading grocery retailers.
Once again, I’m sidestepping Wal-Mart, the top food retailer in the U.S., for this particular discussion – only because Wal-Mart’s sustainability programs have already received plenty of recognition on this blog and elsewhere. Instead, I’m going to focus on four other corporations that play leading roles in this sector: Ahold, the Kroger Co., Safeway, and Supervalu.
Ahold is an international group of supermarkets based in the U.S. and Europe, and those of you on the east coast and in the Midwest probably know its supermarkets as Stop & Shop, Giant, and Peapod. The corporation is one of the largest food retailers in the world. I don’t know if it’s the European influence, the result of a forward-thinking Board — or both — but Ahold certainly seems to “get it.” On their corporate responsibility page they very clearly state: “Our business impacts the lives of millions of people every day. We believe that making this impact a positive one is not just the right thing to do – it also makes good business sense.” I don’t know how you could say it any better.
From there, the Ahold site goes on to describe the company’s CSR activities. Here’s where you would typically see a break down of the triple bottom line, the three legs of the stool, the programs that line up under the categories: social, environmental, and financial. It was cool to see that as a food retailer, Ahold thinks about things a little differently. They’ve grouped their CSR activities into four broad categories: healthy living (inspiring healthy lives), sustainable trade (shared ambitions), climate action (less is more), and community engagement (beyond giving). The website contains plenty of detail behind each of these “four pillars,” as well as easy access to Ahold’s sustainability reports (dating back to 1998). There’s plenty to read about their efforts on a number of fronts, including cutting GHG emissions, responsible sourcing, reducing waste, and educating consumers about the cost of throwing away food. (Did you know the environmental impact of throwing away a banana is equivalent to burning a low-energy light bulb for 12 hours? Who knew?)
The Kroger Co., headquartered in Cincinnati, is one of the nation’s largest grocery retailers, with $70.2 billion in sales in fiscal 2007. Their 2008 sustainability report is already on-line, and it carefully outlines the company’s approach to environmental and social action. Kroger recognizes that waste – paper, plastic, organic – is a big part of their environmental footprint, and the report details the company’s various efforts in waste reduction: recycling, promotion of reusable bags, rescuing and donating wholesome but not-for-retail food, and partnering with suppliers and consumer package goods companies to reduce both product packing and shipping packing. Kroger is also finding innovative ways to reduce energy consumption in its supermarkets. For instance, the company uses heat produced by refrigeration equipment to heat the air and water in its stores. Using 2000 as a base, Kroger plans to reduce overall energy consumption in its stores 30% by 2010.
My next stop was the Safeway, Inc. CSR homepage where I found that this leading food retailer offers both a 2007 CSR Report and a 2007 Environmental Status Report. Safeway, which operates 1,740 stores in the U.S. and Canada, has made a significant commitment to renewable and sustainable energy. In fact, for 2007, Safeway was the fourth largest retail purchaser of renewable energy in the country. In addition, Safeway is a member of both the Chicago Climate Exchange and the California Climate Action Registry. According to their Environmental Status Report, Safeway is dedicated to: environmental assessments at its stores, distribution centers, and supply plants; promoting environmental principles through education and training; reducing waste; using renewable and sustainable energy; replacing ozone-depleting refrigerants; maximizing transportation energy efficiencies; and implementing environmentally safe measures for chemical and fuel storage.
Okay, so there you have a sampling of leading food retailers who seem to be making strides with sustainability initiatives. But, just as I found with the retail sector, there appears to be a lot of variability in this arena, even within a small handful of the top corporations. For instance, I couldn’t find mention of CSR on the Supervalu homepage. Supervalu, which bills itself as a “national grocery retail and supply chain powerhouse,” operates about 2,500 stores nationwide. To its credit, the company does provide an “Environmental Stewardship” page that lists its efforts with regard to energy conservation, waste reduction, and other environmental initiatives, including participation in the EPA’s GreenChill Partnership. “We are committed to environmental stewardship and sustainable operations and will continually work to use energy more efficiently and reduce waste – all in the name of sustainability,” Supervalu says on its site. Sounds like they’re headed in the right direction, and it will be great to hear more from Supervalu as their green initiatives develop and mature.