By Brandon Kane, General Manager
A fundamental difference between GreenStar Food Co+op and our competitors is our collaboration with people, organizations, and businesses in our community to make a positive impact. At GreenStar, we review all choices through the lens of our triple bottom line — people, planet, prosperity — and involve our member-owners to the extent possible in decision-making. I want to revisit the ways GreenStar is cooperating with you in our sustainability efforts.
Buying local is one way we reduce our carbon footprint. Undoubtedly, locally grown and produced products require a shorter transport, so the more we purchase foods and goods grown or produced within our region, the stronger our impact. About 27% of GreenStar’s annual sales are derived from farms and vendors that grow and produce within 100 miles of Ithaca. Compare that to conventional food retailers nationwide that report an average 2% of sales from local producers.
GreenStar is proud to be among the first grocery retailers in the Northeast to go gas-free. Our new anchor store at 770 Cascadilla St. will be heated by an air-source electric heat pump system. This choice, along with our use of 100% community solar-sourced electricity, solidifies our commitment to move away from fossil fuels and to ensure a more sustainable future for our Co-op. Through our partnership with Delaware River Solar, more than 180 people have signed on to use solar energy at their home.
In 2013, GreenStar was the first among area grocery retailers to eliminate the use of single-use plastic grocery bags combined with a community give-back program to incentivize the use of reusable tote bags. Our Bring Your Own Bag, Use It for Good program removed thousands of single-use plastic bags from the waste stream and empowered member-owners and shoppers to donate more than $20,000 among dozens of local charities.
We recognize that GreenStar should be at the forefront of sustainable operations, and with that understanding we are looking forward to an area that needs time, talent, and work to improve: plastic packaging.
To provide some history around this issue: GreenStar is part of a small group of local businesses that in 2015-2016 tried to move toward zero-waste operations, and at that time we intentionally shifted to compostable prepared foods packaging and utensils. We were informed at the end of 2016 that our local compost company would no longer accept compostable utensils, cups, or food packaging. These materials are only truly compostable with the use of an industrial composter, which is not available in Tompkins County. An independent assessment conducted at that time by Tompkins County Solid Waste determined that recyclable plastic packaging had a smaller carbon footprint than compostable materials that would be disposed of in a landfill. With that information, GreenStar switched to recyclable packaging for its grab-and-go prepared foods. As truly compostable packaging becomes available, we will then consider adopting that instead.
As an individual food cooperative, we alone cannot leverage a packaging supplier to innovate home compostable packaging. However, there is power in numbers and, as a food cooperative industry, together we have the economy of scale to pressure national packaging suppliers to meet our collective needs. This will take time. Meanwhile, GreenStar has committed to forming a Green Team in 2020, following our anchor store relocation, to evaluate possible next steps. There will be seats for interested member-owners to participate. Stay tuned for more information about those opportunities.
As possible, we are taking important steps to reduce plastic packaging. Next time you visit a GreenStar location, please take a look at our product selection for bottled water. We recently eliminated plastic water bottles for still water options in favor of recyclable board, aluminum, and glass. We’re also experimenting with the use of compostable packaging for some prepared foods and bulk. Our shoppers are always welcome to use reusable produce bags and bring their own containers for items in bulk, at the deli service case, or at the hot bar and salad bar.
GreenStar is proud of the steps we have taken to date toward green operations, and we’re excited for the possibilities on the horizon. Thank you for your support and for being part of GreenStar’s sustainable efforts to benefit our local community and our planet.