As we set out to build a sustainable store, we realized that "sustainable" isn't just about the products we put on the shelves. It's about HOW we put those products on the shelves. Corporate Responsibility plays a huge role in how we address plastics, but also how we collectively address climate change.
First things first - the products on the shelves. It became apparent very early on that people who care deeply about packaging (or a lack thereof) also care deeply about the product inside. It's not sufficient to carry a plastic-free cleaner that contains known carcinogens or toxins. It's not enough to put typical petroleum-based lip balms into cardboard. We also have to care about the ingredients that go into these products and how these ingredients are sourced. So while there is no perfect product, we do have the following guiding principles in procurement:
- No Single-Use Plastics! While plastics are a wonderful invention for some things (i.e., medical tubing, water bottles during emergency times, etc), the vast majority are unnecessary and pollute our earth and our bodies all the way through the chain. This can get tricky with fresh produce, as we try to balance reducing food waste... but we're working on it!
- No animal testing.
- Reuse is better than disposable. If there is an option to make a product circular, take it! This applies to our vendors. We purposely work with vendors to make sure they take back the big containers we get, and will consider switching vendors where this isn't possible. If there are 2 equal products and one closes the loop to reuse things, we'll prioritize them. (After all, most waste comes before consumer products even get to you!)
- Sourcing local - We source as close to home as we can. If there are 2 equal products and one comes from the Bay Area and another from the East Coast, we'll choose the one with lower emissions. If there are multiple great brands, we may still choose to stock more than one. But we prefer to be as local as possible. It reduces emissions from transportation, and also provides a more resilient supply chain.
- Non-GMO, Organic - Studies are now suggesting a link between organic foods and lower rates of cancers. There is still much work to be done to fully understand this impact, but since 90% of Americans have detectable levels of pesticide in our bodies... can it hurt to cut out pesticides in our food?
So we've gotten our line-up of amazing products, and working with some inspiring vendors. Where vendors don't take back their containers, we're continuing the dialogue to see where improvements can be made. If we receive goods in plastic, we're requesting no plastic!
But then what? Well, there is a lot that goes into a store... physically. Think of the grocery store you went to last. Shelving, produce bins and stands, refrigerators, freezers, carts and baskets, check out stands... just to name some.
Ways that we have been able to make our store buildout more sustainable:
While it's always sad when another business closes, it's even worse if the fixtures end up in the dump. We're working to reduce that, including some of the fixtures from San Mateo's beloved Talbot's Toyland.
Let's talk refrigeration
One subject on which I'm /not/ an expert is refrigeration. While it's hard to pin down the exact contribution of refrigeration and cooling to global GHG emissions, one way to measure a specific contribution is to look at the coolant used - and they are FAR from equal. We talk about these coolants in terms of their Global Warming Potential, or GWP. Refrigerants are assigned a number, with 1 being carbon dioxide, and others on a scale of magnitude to how strong the GHG effects are in relation to carbon dioxide. Most refrigerants are in the realm of hundreds to thousands of times higher than CO2. Freon, for example, used to be extremely common in refrigerators but is starting to be phased out in the industry. Its GWP is a shocking 3,920. The working, salvaged fridges that we bought use R-290 refrigerant, which is propane. The GWP of R-290 is only 3.3! While it's not perfect, it will do the job much more efficiently than other choices on the market. And simply having doors means our fridges keep the cold in - where it belongs, making the unit more energy efficient.
We have lots more to go, and look forward to updating as we make progress!