Sustainability Pays Off

Which is more important: profit or purpose? While many businesses believe they must choose between making money and implementing sustainable initiatives, it is possible to achieve both by maximizing efficiency on all levels of operation.

Going green can be a daunting task for a company that has never practiced sustainable methods, but according to Kathy Larson, vice president of sustainability and education for Frontier Natural Products Co-op, Norway, IA, you shouldn’t allow yourself to feel overwhelmed. Retailers should review existing green models, such as reports from the Global Reporting Initiative and the Food Trade Sustainability Leadership Association, to help create the best plan for their business. “Find a place to start that makes sense for your company and go for it,” says Larson. “Remember, there isn’t a single ‘turnkey’ formula you can use to integrate sustainability into your business. Only you know what is most important and will work best.”

A bi-annual report issued by Frontier Natural Products Co-op helped assess the effectiveness of sustainable practices. The Co-op encourages efforts in 10 fundamental areas that can also be applied at the retail level: sourcing, energy, climate change, resource waste and use, packaging and supplies, stakeholder involvement, employee health and well-being, community, social spending and product.

The co-op business model itself can help companies achieve green goals. The benefit of a co-op is that it is owned by the businesses that buy from it; all participants are striving to reach the same goals of sustainability and success. Integrating sustainability throughout a company is not always an easy task, but it can be accomplished with a team effort and support system. According to Larson, “training [and] engaging early adapters and incorporating sustainability goals at all levels of the company are important to your continued success.”

Although sustainability definitely has its benefits, the question that many companies are asking is, what is this going to cost us? According to Kate Jones, president of Nutrition Now Inc. (NNI), based in Vancouver, WA, “Initial costs for some power-saving equipment may be more than conventional equipment, but energy and resource savings over the long run make up for the initial investment.” After 25 years in the dietary supplement industry, NNI has mastered practices such as waste reduction, paper recycling with FSC-certified paper and the use of power-saving equipment.

NNI is also part of the local Green Lights Program, which provides the company with 60% renewable power from sources such as wind and the sun. The program aims to lower electricity bills, enhance lighting quality and increase worker efficiency while also decreasing carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide air pollution.

Sustainability initiatives offer both direct and indirect paybacks. Reducing energy costs and waste reduction not only betters the environment, but prevents frivolous spending. It also fosters a dedicated and satisfied staff which leads to loyal and reliable customers. According to Larson, “Sustainability offers the stability of the triple bottom line where financial objectives are balanced with the social and environmental.”


Published in WholeFoods Magazine, August 2010 (published ahead of print on June 26, 2010)