A Semi-Annual Publication of Manomet

Shedding Light
By: David McGlinchey

Photo: Marina Duchesneau

There are more than 37,000 supermarkets in the United States.

The grocery sector employs approximately 2.5 million workers and represents about 5 percent of the national economy.

At 55 kilowatt-hours per square foot, grocery stores use the most electricity of any commercial building, more than double the next closest sector.

Shorebirds

An employee feeds cardboard into the store's bailer. The average supermarket produces 4-6 bails of cardboard each day. Stores can sell each bail for $44, which also eliminates an average $38 tipping fee at the dump.
Photo: Haley Jordan

Grocery stores also generate almost twice as much solid waste as any other retail sector.

But until September 2012, this enormous industry did not have a comprehensive sustainability certification program.

"Historically, that need had not been filled," said Ted Brown, the founder of Brown Sustainability Solutions and the former leader of Hannaford Supermarket's sustainability program. "Most grocers have what I would call a patchwork of data and systems."

In 2012, Manomet Center Program Manager Peter Cooke launched the Grocery Stewardship Certification, a point-based system to help grocery store managers reduce their environmental footprint. The system – also known as the GSC – is based on Manomet's Eco-Efficiency Workbook for Grocers and was initially rolled out as a pilot project with Maine-based Hannaford Supermarkets.

Cooke said that his goal is to assist store managers in managing and reducing their store's entire environmental footprint and engaging their employees in sustainability initiatives.

"Grocery represents such an important business sector with regard to sustainability," Cooke said. "The GSC provides a right-now assessment for these businesses and a mechanism for them to keep improving."

A district operations specialist discussing sustainability with associates.
Photo: Courtesy of Hannaford Supermarkets

So far, more than 37 Hannaford stores in five states have received their official certification. Another 182 are currently working toward certification. Hannaford Corporate Responsibility Manager George Parmenter praised the GSC for giving the company "a platform to engage our associates in our sustainability work" and for "reducing waste."

He said Hannaford employees are excited about the program and had even become competitive about their store's sustainability score.

"This is work we can be really proud of," Parmenter said during a May appearance with Cooke in Boston. "This is the kind of thing you go home and tell the family about."

Brown said the benefit of the program was the understanding that grocers gain about their own sustainability potential and the help they receive to achieve that.

"The GSC provides any grocer with a set of tools to better manage their data and progress for achieving their sustainability goals," Brown said. "It tells them where they are, where they've been, and where they need to go."

Many companies in the supermarket industry are focused on reducing their environmental footprint – the Progressive Grocer has a popular Green Grocers award program. Supermarkets are quick to publicize a LEED environmental building certification or participation in the EPA's GreenChill program to reduce emissions. Still, Brown said that he was not surprised that an outside organization developed the first comprehensive program because of the dispersed nature of grocery operations.

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Hannaford employees review the GSC workbook while composting produce. Photo: Peter Cooke

"The reason it didn't happen within the industry is because there are many owners of sustainability programs. There are owners at corporate, legal, purchasing, operations and many times there is not sufficient communication between corporate and retail," Brown said.

"The reality is that many store managers do not have the latitude to impact some of the operational outcomes. Putting it all under one umbrella can be extremely helpful."

The workbook gives points for a variety of categories, including heating and cooling systems, waste disposal, composting, lighting, water conservation, signage and employee engagement. The specific questions cover everything from efficient toilets to recycling policy to the distance that produce travels from farm to store.

After a successful pilot stage, the GSC is now expanding to certify other stores. Cooke said that he received immediate interest from several companies. A handful of independent grocery stores, which already had a sharp focus on sustainability, received quick certification.

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Manomet's Peter Cooke (with green jacket) reviews a store for sustainability practices. Photos: Haley Jordan.
Photo: Haley Jordan

The Rising Tide Community Market in Damariscotta, Maine, was one of the first non-Hannaford stores to be certified.

"Participating in the Grocery Stewardship Certification program not only made us feel good about the measures that we are already taking towards being sustainable, but also gave us concrete steps that we can take to improve our footprint," said Elsa Kevin, a manager at Rising Tide. "We are proud to display our certification on the front door and let our customers know that we care."

Cooke says that he has seen enthusiasm from supermarket industry leaders and he is setting an ambitious goal for the program – 2,000 certified stores in four years.

"Industry leaders definitely recognize the importance of sustainability and they're excited that Manomet has developed a tool to make it a reality," Cooke said. "There is a lot of interest and a lot of momentum and we're excited to expand the program."

Brown said that the GSC gives store managers a valuable tool and is poised to succeed.

"Some of the operational outcomes depend on technical expertise the store manager doesn't have, but at the same time the store manager is held responsible for running an efficient operation," Brown said. "The GSC offers the opportunity for them to stay on top of the latest information."

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