It's trendy to be earth-friendly nowadays. Sustainability has become a green flag waved enthusiastically by most U.S. companies. But mixed in with these newly-minted corporate environmentalists are a handful of firms that began their eco-journey long before it became fashionable.
Publix Super Markets is one of those companies.
"We were thinking green before it was cool to be green," says Maria Brous, spokesperson for Publix, based in Lakeland, FL. "For instance, our recycling efforts began more than three decades ago."
Indeed, the company's efforts in this regard are well-known within the grocery industry. They also pre-date the current concern over global warming that has spurred on so many companies in recent years. It's not surprising that the actions of a well-known and influential grocery chain make for a worthwhile case study in corporate sustainability.
While the retailer has not?yet set any qualitative goals or published a report, it is currently working on measuring various environmental impacts, setting goals and developing a sustainability reporting format. Actions, the saying goes, speak loud than words.
"Publix has always been committed to the responsible use of environmental resources," explains Brous. "Our continued success depends upon sustaining our environment, the people in our company and communities and our business."
Interestingly, several words standout in Brous' statement of the chain's goals: "Publix is devoted to the highest standards of stewardship for our stockholders and to being involved as responsible citizens in our communities. We are intolerant of waste."
Stewardship, responsibility, waste intolerance. These have been company cornerstones for a long time. The corporate commitment is manifested in everything from warehousing to store and fleet operations.
Here is a look at several areas of sustainability at the company:
Warehouses: Lighting, always a source of energy and financial drain, is being reduced in both cases as Publix is actively conducting retrofits for energy-efficient bulbs within its warehouses. Water, another commodity too-often wasted, is being conserved by the chain in an interesting way: Publix car wash stations, located within warehousing and distribution centers, run on 70 percent reclaimed water.
And there are more plans in the works.
"In limited supply, we use reusable plastic pallets as opposed to wood pallets and are continuing to work on the expansion of this practice," Brous says. "Currently, research into the use of LED lights for docks and trailer lights is underway."
Efficient vehicles: Publix works diligently with truck manufacturers to get the highest miles per gallon possible for all of its delivery vehicles. In a span of less than two years, the company has decreased truck miles by more than 28,000 per week; greenhouse gas emissions have been slashed by about 2,500 tons.
Brous comments on the company's transportation practices: "Truck routes have been examined to reduce empty miles on the road, wear and tear on vehicles and increase fuel savings. Publix changed the way we load our trailers to put more items on each truck and increase efficient use of truck space."
The company has 1,400 cars and light trucks in its fleet and is moving to using the most efficient traditional car models in the future. It has also been adding more gas-electric hybrids, with 141 fuel efficient company cars currently in service. There are more on the way.
Recently, Publix enhanced transportation by deploying the Transportation Lifecycle Management (TLM) suite from Manhattan Associates Inc., Atlanta. The solution enables the chain to cut costs more effectively and make environmentally-conscious transportation decisions. This includes replenishing the store and warehouse, manufacturing raw materials and transferring products among facilities through both the company's private fleet and contracted carriers.
Publix looks to ensure that its trucks are filled to capacity with the correct products and that they are efficiently routed to stores, according to Brous. The overall goal is the judicious use of fuel and energy.
Solar energy: Publix has been actively working with the Florida Solar Energy Center and several companies proficient in solar integration. More specifically, the chain has been conducting Photovoltaic (defined as "voltage produced when exposed to radiant energy') Feasibility System Pilots to determine how best to integrate them into retail operations.
"We have been researching photovoltaics for some time and are hopeful that we will be able to incorporate solar energy into our overall energy management strategy," says Brous. "Our first photovoltaic installation will likely be at Publix GreenWise Market stores."
A partnership for this initiative was recently forged with the Florida Power and Light Co. Currently, solar energy testing is underway at three retail locations-two of which are new Publix GreenWise Markets and the third being a traditional Publix store location. In addition, the company has joined the State of Florida in its Solar Incentive Program, which will bring solar power to the Publix corporate office.
Recycling: The company's goal in recycling is to "employ and explore options for the reduction, reuse and recycling of materials," explains Brous. Broadly speaking, this includes, but is not limited to: recycling store-generated material destined for landfills, working closely with suppliers in an effort to reduce materials, promoting reusable and recyclable materials and increasing the use of recycled content where practical.
In 2007, the company-wide recycling rate was 42 percent, with Publix actively working to improve this figure. Last year's totals included the recycling of 216,772 tons of cardboard (which helped save approximately 3.7 million trees) and 1.5 billion gallons of water, as well as saving 650,000 cubic yards of landfill space.
In addition, the chain recycled 7,469 tons of plastic, which, combined with cardboard recycling, saved approximately 2.5 million barrels of oil. To obtain such a high recycling rate, Publix explored ways to recycle traditionally less recycled materials such as fat, bone, meat scraps, bakery waste, damaged produce and rotisserie grease.
A current initiative in Florida is already underway.
"Several Publix stores in Broward County are participating in a food waste recycling project," says Brous.
"If successful, the total amount of waste eligible to be recycled from our retail operations could increase from about?42 percent to 80 percent."
Energy conservation: Publix aims to make reductions wherever practical in the area of energy consumption, fuel, water and materials through several methods.
On the ground, stores will be built that are more energy-efficient, with an emphasis on reducing energy consumption in existing stores. Water use will be curtailed as much as possible, while still maintaining the highest standards of sanitation and food safety in the industry;
On the road, Brous reinforces earlier statements: "[We are] reducing fuel use and emissions through fleet modifications, training and optimization of loads, routing and delivery schedules. Evaluation of the use and sale of alternative fuels [is accomplished] wherever practical."
Education: Brous stresses the need to "promote sustainability with customers, associates and suppliers, within the retail industry."
Publix plans to achieve this by offering environmentally-friendly products (such as reusable shopping bags), providing customers and associates tips for practicing sustainability at home and working with suppliers to identify sustainable product and packaging options
With such a wide range of activities, what can be left for a responsible eco-company to do?
"We will be looking more into the recycling of tires and rain water harvesting in manufacturing plants," says Brous.
Now that's sustainability.