10 Practices to Move the Sustainability Needle


Engage Your Employees In Sustainability Efforts

Employees who find meaning in their work are more satisfied, more productive, and are less likely to leave. When people are able to make a positive environmental or social impact at work, they have a higher job satisfaction rate by a ratio of 2:1. These companies also experience 25-49% less turnover, 28% less employee theft, 48% fewer safety incidents, and are 16% more profitable.

Unilever, one of the world’s leading sustainable CPG companies, has made employee engagement a cornerstone of its sustainable activities. Paul Polman, Unilever’s former CEO, writes in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, “To bolster the ‘can do’ belief and attitude among employees, it is important to invest in educating employees about sustainability as well as to create systems and processes that make it easier for employees to integrate sustainability into their business.”


Contribute to Community Disaster Readiness

COVID-19 raised awareness of food retailers as essential community resources, but crises come in all shapes and sizes. What if there’s a long-term power outage due to a natural disaster?

In January of 2020, Stop & Shop announced it would switch to clean energy microgrids at 40 of its stores. Each store will operate independently of the local electric grid, enabling them to continue providing electricity during a grid power outage.

“Our stores are an important community resource for our customers, particularly when severe weather strikes,” says Stop & Shop President Gordon Reid. “Whether customers need to stock up on food, batteries, flashlights, other emergency items or even their prescription medications, we know how vital the products and services our stores provide are. These servers will not only reduce our stores’ impact on the environment but also ensure our stores can stay open when needed most.”


Educate Consumers on How to Shop and Eat More Sustainably

Don’t just tell customers you have their best interests in mind—show them. Consumers are inundated with advice about how to eat healthier, but studies show they struggle with purchasing and preparing healthy meals. Make your store a resource for making better lifestyle decisions. Cooking classes, community gardens, and store tours build community connections, foster positive employee-customer relationships, and make customers feel more excited about walking through your doors.

Schnucks Cooking School, located inside its Des Peres, Missouri store, offers a variety of cooking classes. During COVID-19, Schnucks began also offering classes online, along with the ability to pre-order and pick up the class meal (with wine pairing).


Support Local Food Systems

Consumers are increasingly aware of the negative effects of industrial agriculture and long-distance food transportation. Plus, most folks enjoy supporting local businesses.

If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s how to be more creative and resourceful. Texas grocer H-E-B is piloting a program in which its stores offer ready-made meals from restaurants in San Antonio, Houston, and Austin. All proceeds from the sales of the chef-prepared meals will go directly to the restaurants.


Reduce Harmful Environmental Toxins

One of the great ironies of the COVID-19 crisis is that is has increased the use of potentially harmful cleaners, sanitizers, and disinfectants. Food retailers are in a precarious position as they work to keep employees and customers safe without harming them in the process.

The CDC has released a guide for how to safely disinfect retail establishments. The steps involve providing skin and eye protection to employees, and ensuring proper ventilation. Also, make sure employees know which products to use, when to use them, and where.

Any time you’re using greener, safer cleaning solutions, let your customers know. You can also give pointers on safer in-home cleaning, a top-of-mind concern as COVID-19 drags on.


Be More Intentional with Your Composting and Recycling Efforts

Consumers are eager to get involved in composting and recycling, but many communities lack the resources. Food retailers should make store a recycling and composting hub for its community. Show consumers how you are reducing food waste at the store, and how they can do it at home.

In 2016, NPR reported on Walmart’s efforts to waste less food in stores. Usually if one egg in a carton cracks, a grocery store will throw the whole thing out. Walmart found a way to replace those eggs and still sell most of the pack, which reduced millions of eggs being thrown out every year.


Support, and Advertise, Clean Energy Efforts

Support the transition to clean energy within your stores. Provide electric vehicle charging stations, install solar energy solutions in-store, and then showcase your renewable energy efforts to employees and customers.

Already one of the largest solar systems in Marin County, California, Good Earth Natural Foods in 2019 announced it would expand its Fairfax solar program to cover 80-90% of the store’s electric consumption.


Engage in Storm Water Conservation

Storm water pollution occurs when materials and chemicals are washed into storm drains from streets, gutters, parking lots, and construction sites. When it rains, stormwater washes whatever is in your parking lot or waste containment area (trash, oil, waste, and chemicals) into rivers, lakes, and streams.

This guide from the San Mateo Countywide Water Pollution Prevention Program highlights common-sense steps food retailers can take, including how to properly dispose of waste or wash water generated by grocery stores and supermarkets containing materials such as food, oil, grease, detergents, and degreasers.

Also, teaching employees where wastewater goes will help them recognize issues such as litter in storm drains and clogged storm drains. Infrastructure solutions such as permeable pavement and landscaping and runoff management can help mitigate the negative environmental impact of large parking lots.


Host a Community Bulletin Board

People visit their community food store an average of twice every week. The opportunity to engage shoppers is unique to the food retail world. Food retailers that embrace their vital community role create value for their brand.

While maintaining an up-to-date and engaging community board may be hard to translate into sales, it is certainly a way that grocery stores can communicate that they care.


Help Eliminate Local Food Deserts

Food deserts put communities at risk. According to a 2009 U.S. Department of Agriculture report, about 2.3 million people in the United States live more than a mile away from a supermarket. Increasing market access is the first step in overcoming the nation’s food deserts.

HyVee is piloting a program in Peoria, Illinois to make click-and-collect and delivery options available to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) recipients living in public housing. Food retailers have the power to break down barriers to access by using technology and e-commerce solutions already proven in the field.