"Our human destiny is inextricably linked to the actions of all other living things. Respecting this principle is the fundamental challenge in changing the nature of business."
- Paul Hawken, The Ecology of Commerce


Ten Ways to Become a Green Retail Store

Hands up who could survive for more than a week without using a retail store? Right. Canada’s retail sector is huge – it employs 12% of the total workforce. Unless a store manager has determined to do thing differently, however, your community’s retail stores are chewing up Earth’s valuable resources, teaching us bad habits, and spewing them into a landfill. They’re encouraging us to become the Godzillas of greed, the Jokers of junk food, the Lex Luthors of luxurious wastefulness.

1. Create a Green Team
Everything can change, however, and retail stores around the world are beginning to take their responsibilities seriously. With razor thin margins, managers are beginning to realize there’s a bottom-line advantage to having an environmental strategy – and that it rubs off well on their staff, who respond with more loyalty and reliability. It starts with forming a Green Team, studying what can be done, and developing a plan.

Start a Green Team:

2. Set Meaningful Goals
In Britain, M&S (Marks and Spencer) has pledged to reduce its CO2 emissions by 80% and send zero waste to the landfill by 2012. Wal-Mart has pledged to use 100% renewable energy by 2013; double the fuel efficiency of its trucks by 2015; and send zero waste to the landfill by 2025. The challenge is not easy - in 2006, Wal-Mart’s carbon footprint increased by 8.6%. Without such goals, however, the Jokers and Godzillas will continue to party.

Wal-Mart - For the Greener Good:

3. Use Water and Energy Sustainably
Since the margins in food are so low, $100,000 saved by investing in efficient lighting has the same impact as increasing sales by $10 million. When Staples upgraded its lighting, heating, and cooling systems, installed energy management systems, and upgraded its buildings, their $3 million investment brought them annual savings of almost $1 million, giving payback in under three years. In BJ’s Wholesale Club, on the US east coast, the use of a “Killer Watt Gang” game among their employees, in which volunteer sheriffs arrest energy-wasting villains, has helped reduced their energy costs by $4.8 million a year. One easy way to buy green power is to sign up with Bullfrog Power, as Wal-Mart has done in eight of its Canadian stores.

Bullfrog Power:

4. Don't Use Climate-Warming Refrigerants
Among the greenhouse gases that are warming Earth’s atmosphere, the F-gases are often overlooked. The worst is a gas with the glamorous name HFC-134a, used in refrigeration and mobile air conditioning. Once released, it lives in the atmosphere for around 14 years, where molecule for molecule, it traps 5,000 more heat than CO2 - and since research suggests a leakage rate of 25-30% a year, it’s becoming a very big problem. What to do? Phase it out, and replace it with climate friendly refrigeration systems, as Loblaws is doing in its new Scarborough store, Unilever has done in 200,000 chiller systems, and Coca-Cola is planning to do in 100,000 bottle coolers by 2010.

Chilling Facts:

5. Travel Sustainably
A stores can make its trucking operations more fuel efficient - but what about its customers? Every time an out-of-town box store opens, two local stores close down, and people have to get in their cars. Wal-Mart’s yearly share of Americans’ travel produces as much carbon as Wal-Mart itself. IKEA, which may be the greenest large retail chain in the world, is encouraging 10% of its customers to travel to its stores by public transport by 2009, helped by free bus and home delivery services.

IKEA and Climate Change:

6. Support Local Suppliers
Steven Chu, the Nobel-prize winning physicist and new US Secretary of Energy, warned recently that climate change induced drought in California could eliminate the state’s ability to grow food in the Central Valley by 2100. How then will retail food stores supply us? In western Canada, Small Potatoes Urban Delivery is sourcing over 50% of its organic food products locally, reducing the average “miles travelled per bite” from 1500 to 500 miles – and delivered by bicycle where possible. In Britain, M&S has pledged to reduce its imported food and double its regional food sourcing, and Asda (a British subsidiary of Wal-Mart) has opened 15 sourcing hubs to deliver local products to its stores.

M&S Plan A:   


7. Sell Green Products
What an opportunity to make a difference! Home Depot plans to have 6,000 products in its Eco-Options line by 2009. Loblaws’ has 30 products in its PC Green brand. At Britain’s Tesco, shoppers who buy organic, Fairtrade, and biodegradable items are rewarded with green loyalty card points. In 2008, the British stores Waitrose and Sainsbury’s each gave a million efficient light bulbs away for free. In North America, Wal-Mart had sold 100 million efficient bulbs by 2008, using lower prices, more shelf space at eye level, and end-of-aisle showcase displays. Wal-Mart also plans to double its selection of organic products.

Best Practices in Greening Retail:

8. Green Up Your Supply Chain
All of IKEA’s 1600 suppliers have to sign onto the IKEA Way, which lays down green rules for emissions, waste and chemical management, working conditions, and child labor. Wal-Mart is asking its electronics suppliers to fill in a sustainability scorecard, which it uses to influence purchasing decisions, and it is challenging its suppliers to make their products with renewable energy. It has also joined the Global Forest and Trade Network, pledging to phase out illegal and unwanted wood sources from its supply chain, and increase the proportion of wood products that come from credibly certified sources. Britain’s retail chain Boots runs workshops for its suppliers on packaging, the efficient use of resources, and energy management.

How Green is Your Supply Chain?

9. Reduce Your Packaging and Waste
Waste is bad for the environment and the bottom line. Loblaws has a goal to divert 70% of its waste from landfills in 2009; in Nova Scotia, which has municipal composting, they diverted 94% in 2007. Across Canada, Loblaws sold 9 million re-usable green bags in 2007. It is aiming to divert a billion plastic bags from the landfill in 2009, and has introduced a ‘bagless’ store in every region of Canada. IKEA is aiming to reclaim 90% of its store waste by 2010. In the USA, Target (with 600 stores) eliminated 850 tonnes of waste and saved $4.5 million in labour costs in just one year by adopting a “floor-ready” packaging policy.


10. Educate the World
What a chance to educate people about the environmental crisis we are in. In Britain, Tesco is developing carbon footprint labeling for all the goods it sells, while M&S is helping its customers reduce their energy use by running a Carbon Challenge in partnership with the Women’s Institute. When M&S started to go green, its CEO took his 100 top executives to see An Inconvenient Truth to get them motivated. It was a small beginning - but that’s how oak trees grow. In an eco-conscious world, retail stores will help us balance good housekeeping with good planetary housekeeping.

Canada Grocery Stores Green Scorecard:

Guy Dauncey is author of the newly published book The Climate Challenge: 101 Solutions to Global Warming.

First published in Corporate Knights Magazine, March 2009