What's your company's definition of sustainability, and why is it important to you?
Fred Meijer once said, "I want to leave the world in a little better shape than when I entered it.” At Meijer, our commitment to sustainability stems from our foundation to being a good neighbor. Being a good neighbor means providing fresh food and other products at affordable prices. It means providing excellent service and giving back to our communities, but it also means being good stewards of the environment and protecting it for generations to come. At Meijer, we are striving to continually improve our environmental performance because our customers care and because it is the right thing to do.
What are the most important sustainability issues your company deals with?
With 235 stores, open 24 hours a day, 364 days a year, Meijer uses energy for lighting, heating, cooling, and transportation. However, we incorporate innovative and sustainable business practices into both our stores and operations. We are constantly working to identify energy-saving opportunities, such as switching to a clean diesel fleet and investing in LED lighting and other energy-saving retrofits.
Another area we focus on is food waste. Meijer is working hard to decrease the amount of damaged produce in our stores and waste at our food processing facilities. For example, Meijer follows the EPA Food Recovery Hierarchy to find the best reuse for food waste. First, we strive to buy the right quantities at the right times, take care during transportation to prevent damage, and sell cosmetically-different products through our Misfits Program. Through our Food Rescue program, we donate close-dated food that would otherwise go to waste. In 2016, we donated more than 10 million pounds of food – which equates to 8 million meals – to local food banks. If we cannot donate it, we find other beneficial uses for food waste, such as feeding animals, composting, and energy production. For example, one of our food processing facilities sends unusable cut produce to a composting facility, saving around 5 tons of waste from the landfill each week.
Sustainable thinking is no longer just a "nice to have", it's increasingly seen as a competitive advantage. Tell us how sustainable thinking is helping move your company forward?
Meijer cares about sustainability because it helps to cut costs, attracts customers, and it’s simply the right thing to do. As we work on telling our sustainability story to customers, it becomes increasingly clear that they care about our environmental performance and the performance of the companies that make the products they buy. Sustainable thinking is helping Meijer to evaluate and improve our own brand of products and our operations. We are currently on track to save $20 million in energy costs by 2020 just through energy-efficiency investments.
Rock the Green, the Sustainability Festival, is all about going for zero waste. How has your company reduced waste across your operations? Has it paid off for you financially?
Meijer strives to recycle all materials that can be recycled, minimize hazardous waste, and find the highest and best use for organic and food wastes. In addition to our efforts to reduce food waste, Meijer is working hard to increase the amount of waste that is diverted from the landfill through recycling and reuse. In 2016, we recycled almost 130,000 tons of material.
Meijer also has a car battery recycling program to help keep unwanted batteries out of landfills. Last year, we recycled 552 tons of batteries on behalf of our customers. In 2016, we also recycled more than 427 tons of e-waste, successfully diverting hazardous metals and other hazardous materials from the landfill.
Surveys show that employees are happier and more productive when they're engaged with a company's sustainability strategies. How do you engage your staff to implement your sustainability plans?
Most of sustainability performance is dependent on human behavior, so to be successful, it is essential that we engage team members in Meijer sustainability strategies. During Earth Week 2016, we launched a composting program at our corporate campus that switched out all the food containers and utensils in the cafeterias to compostable products. In a follow-up awareness campaign in 2017, humorous, educational videos were created regarding centralized trash and composting bins. All team members at the corporate campus were incentivized to give up their personal trash can in exchange for a reusable travel mug. This led to increased organic and mixed recycling. Now team members better sort their waste when they have to walk to centralized waste bins. We are always looking for new and innovative ways to engage our team members in our sustainability efforts.
In a nutshell, how will you be "rocking the green" in the coming 5 years?
The quest to become a more sustainable company is never ending. At Meijer, we will strive to become more sustainable so we can continue to be a good neighbor and to provide quality products for years to come. As our sustainability programs mature, they will evolve, but in the coming 5 years, we will continue to focus on diverting waste from the landfill, lowering our emissions, using less energy, and building more sustainable stores. We will also continue to engage with our customers to learn about the sustainability efforts that matter most to them.