By Brandon Kane, General Manager
The tagline for GreenStar’s vision of its future is “Growing Forward.” It applies equally well to something as concrete as putting a shovel in the ground or as abstract as developing the emotional intelligence of our workplace.
Growing Forward is the idea that you and I are forging a path together using our shared cooperative enterprise as an engine to transform our best ideas into reality. The outcomes of this collective work are ambitious and inspiring: a new flagship store in 2020, a robust local economy, and a sustainable business model that inspires other communities to go cooperative.
I feel so lucky to be part of an organization that takes action on its ideals. Even though GreenStar is relatively small compared to the behemoth of modern grocery chains, we manage to have a profoundly positive impact on the lives our co-op touches. Consider our low-income discount program known as FLOWER. Since it was introduced seven years ago, FLOWER has allowed more than 1,600 members of our community to save more than $500,000 off their collective grocery bills. Increasing the size of our stores will allow us to grow this program forward and serve our owners on an even larger scale.
Behind each dollar taken in at GreenStar is a farmer or small business owner who is also your neighbor. In 2018, sales of local goods at GreenStar surpassed $6 million. It’s easy to see how a larger store with improved access and product variety will help our local economy grow forward. We’ve estimated that in its first year of operation our new GreenStar store will provide an additional $2 million in sales of local goods. That’s something to be excited about!
And that’s just a beginning. By shopping at GreenStar, you foster a strong local economy in a variety of other ways. About 25 percent of our annual revenue goes directly to the wages and benefits of our staff and fellow cooperative owners. Starting pay at GreenStar is now over $13 per hour — well above the norm in an industry dominated by the minimum wage. Through our co-op, we keep growing a more healthy and just local economy.
One of our goals when operating the business of the Co-op is to have as little negative environmental impact as possible. We often adopt innovative sustainable practices as a means to achieve this goal. In 2019, our business is going 100 percent solar, powered by an array located just miles away from our stores. Even as we take on a building three times our present West End size, we will be fully powered by solar energy. Perhaps even more exciting is another 2019 innovation, in which GreenStar owners will have an opportunity to go solar in your individual lives regardless of whether you rent or own your home. Making a massive switch away from fossil fuels is (unfortunately) not something you’re likely to see from other grocery businesses anytime soon. But then again, most grocery businesses are not owned and operated by 13,000 community members who care about the good of all concerned.
A significant financial disadvantage of running a cooperative business in today’s economy is that our competitors are financed by billions of dollars’ worth of private equity. This means an almost unending well of money to finance the establishment of chain businesses. Cooperatives depend largely upon the equity provided by our owners, through activities such as shopping and personal investments.
If you’re reading this article, chances are you’re already an owner of GreenStar residing in New York State. It’s also safe to assume that you care quite deeply about having your ownership support the various positive impacts that GreenStar has on our community. In order to Grow Forward, we need you to get involved in any way possible. Our Capital Campaign provides an opportunity (for owners with the financial means to do so) to invest in GreenStar’s current expansion project. If that’s not an option for you, consider Growing Solar with us in 2019.
GreenStar owners who opt in to the Growing Solar program will save money on their own electric bill, even as the company providing the solar energy will help fund GreenStar’s expansion. This program is a unique triple win for you, the Co-op, and the planet.
We have tremendous momentum going for Growing Forward. However you participate, get ready to be astonished at what GreenStar can do as it pools the resources of its committed owners. We can all be very proud of what we’re creating together.