It’s Earth Month! Last April LifeSource received the Mid-Valley Green Award for Most Sustainable Large Business. This April we’d like to share how we work to remain so.

Sustainability is a word that can mean different things in different contexts. Here’s the premise upon which we define it: In order for something to be sustainable, the way we use it today must facilitate our ability to use it in the future.

On a very small scale, and in the context of food, it means that we can grow a crop on a piece of land in a manner that supports the land’s ability to grow crops again and again and again, without the need for ever increasing amounts of petrochemical fertilizer, pesticide or herbicide. In a larger context we need to consider the systems that clean our air and water and process nutrients in the living soil. These systems must continue running.

Here at LifeSource, we have been working to really understand where we are in regards to sustainability; to see what we are doing really well (and there is a lot) and also to discover where we can improve. So far we have been focusing on resource use such as water and fuels, waste and recycling, treatment of our staff and supporting our community. This involves a lot of digging through utility bills, calculating volumes for recycling containers, examining employee statistics and budgeting for community support.

Traditionally the goal of any business is to make money; a successful business maximizes profits. At LifeSource we embrace a model that expands the definition of success to include a triple bottom line—equally considering People, Planet, and Profits. As part of the grocery industry we are in a strong position to be able to make real steps in all these areas. We’ll address each of these bottom lines in turn.

People: In last month’s newsletter we talked about what we do to ensure that our staff is treated well so that we can better serve you. Briefly to recap, LifeSource employees receive excellent benefits, a retirement plan, competitive wages, a discount on purchases, profit sharing, generous vacation time, paid community service hours, opportunities for continued education, humanistic management practices and even a sabbatical plan for long term employees.

Reaching beyond our staff to our suppliers, we trade directly with farmers whenever possible, offering fair prices and solid relationships. We work directly with local food processors and manufacturers whenever we can, thereby reducing ‘food miles’ as well as possibly affording better prices to those suppliers and to you.

We listen to your needs, requests and concerns. You can speak with us directly, or leave a suggestion about how we can improve our service and our selection in the box at the Info Kiosk at the front of the store.

Planet: First, by supporting organic agriculture we are encouraging the health of our planet, our communities and the people who grow our food. Conventional chemically grown agriculture continues to add petrochemicals and genetically engineered seeds into our natural systems, both wholly foreign and in massive quantities. Fertilizer is a good thing but when added constantly, especially when unnecessary, it will run off and build up in aquatic systems causing damage or complete system collapse.

No one should have to be exposed to toxic chemicals in order to support themselves and their families, but on most mono-culture mega-farms this is the norm for poor, often minority workers. Both the workers and the communities surrounding the farms have increased exposure to chemicals and the health risks that accompany them. Organic growing methods do not create these health risks.

The challenges we face in reducing our “footprint” as a retailer are really the same as those everyone faces; energy use and create waste. Refrigeration uses up massive amounts of electricity, especially in those easy to shop, open cases that we all find so nice and convenient.

Our use of electrical energy has been reduced in the following ways: We Installed a solar array of 162 solar panels that generate about 34.83Kw of electricity, comparable to the energy use of three average Salem households. In addition, all additional electricity that we purchase is through PGE’s wind generated power option.

We have energy efficient, low mercury, fluorescent tubes in our overhead lighting and we recently replaced 75 watt halogen spotlights with 14 watt LED bulbs, producing better lighting more efficiently. We replaced our old open-air coolers with energy efficient new coolers which either have doors or have front covers that are closed at night. They look better, too.

As for gasoline use, we have an incentive program that encourages employees to use alternative transportation to and from work. LifeSource also owns a truck that runs on 100% electricity (and has zero emissions).

Reducing waste is a constant struggle as we cannot control the packaging of every thing that comes into the store. We make a big effort to recycle as much as possible and last year we diverted a significant percent of our total potential waste to recycling. Packaging is always considered when we evaluate new products. Reducing waste is an important goal. We are always searching for and implementing new ways we can reduce, reuse and recycle. Every little bit helps.

We have generous “bring your own bag credits”of 10¢ for grocery 5¢ for smaller bags and we offer reusable bags at or below cost. We don’t offer plastic grocery bags and we do offer reusable produce and bulk bags for sale. Our bulk department gives you the option of greatly reduced packaging as well as the opportunity to buy only as much as needed.

Any paper that’s printed on only one side is used as scratch or note paper before it’s recycled. Our paper towels, napkins, toilet paper, grocery bags, printing paper and our newsletter are all made of at least 80% post consumer recycled material. Our primary printer is default set to print double sided.

We recycle our hard and soft plastic, cardboard, paper, metal and glass. Bubble wrap and peanuts are saved and reused by local shippers. Food preparation trim and waste from the Deli, produce scraps and waxed cardboard are composted at a new facility in Corvallis. We donate some produce scraps to local farmers for their compost and chickens. Slightly damaged produce and close to out of date food is donated to local food distribution charities.

At our Customer Appreciation Events we use all compostable, biodegradable, sample ware. Staff and ‘eat here’ deli customers are provided with re-useable eating ware for use with our salad and hot deli bars. In order to reduce water use we’ve installed low flow toilets and put flow reducers on all faucets that we’re legally allowed to do so.

Profit: People and profit are integrated in a locally owned business. We are all integral members of our community. The owners of our business, the employees and many of our suppliers live right here in the Willamette Valley. The profits from LifeSource stay local. We shop here, we buy and rent homes here, we pay taxes here. There’s no foreign corporate headquarters with a highly overpaid CEO who takes his money elsewhere.

Community members can and do come to us with requests for donations and help in creating and supporting community and educational events. LifeSource makes generous donations to Salem area schools and a multitude of community organizations for their fundraisers. We collect donations for Marion Polk Food Share, as well as a variety of local and environmentally oriented non-profits.

LifeSource continues to make measurable and concrete sustainability commitments. To this end we have created sustainability coordinator and recycle coordinator positions and joined the Food Trade Sustainability Leadership Association. Last year we implemented our “Close-to-Home” program to promote and support local products. Our buyers adhere to strict product selection guidelines that include social responsibility, quality, ingredients and packaging. LifeSource is now EarthWISE Certified.

There is always more that we can do. On our current ‘to do’ list are the following opportunities: We want to install destratification fans to increase efficiencyof heating and cooling. We are constantly striving to increase staff training on organics, genetically modified foods and how to make healthier choices. We are also continuously training staff to streamline our electrical use, by turning off any unnecessary device, whether it’s a computer monitor or an overhead fan. We encourage everyone to decrease the amount of paper used.

Any other suggestions? Please offer them up to us!

Here are a few things you can do to help. Whenever possible select products that are fair trade, organic or made by a smaller company (smaller companies put more money back into their communities). Choose products with less packaging or recyclable packaging; buying in bulk saves resources and money. On a more hands on note, in the eating area you can wipe out your plastic deli containers and put them, along with your empty bottles and cans, into the recycling bin.

We’re all in this together. The future belongs to us and to our children and their children. If we work hard and work together, we can ensure that the future is healthy and happy. Celebrate Earth Month. Do something extra. Every month. Every day. It’s up to us.