Sustainability goes beyond Earth Day at Metcalfe’s Market

The local grocer has a number of environmentally friendly initiatives that it practices year round, and it’s “why” is a lesson for businesses of all types.

Earth Day — April 22 — is less than a week away, but environmentally conscious business initiatives shouldn’t only be practiced or celebrated one day a year.

According to a 2017 Cone Communications corporate social responsibility study, 86 percent of U.S. consumers expect companies to act on social and environmental issues.

Moreover, the study shows that 67 percent of Americans don’t trust corporations to act responsibly on social and environmental issues without the push of government regulation. Just 13 percent of consumers believe business presents the greatest potential to solve social and environmental issues.

“Now, consumers are no longer just asking, ‘What do you stand for,’ but also, ‘What do you stand up for?’” says Alison DaSilva, executive VP of CSR strategy at Cone Communications.

Recognizing this, Metcalfe’s at Hilldale is just one local business that has made a strong commitment to sustainability all year long.

The grocery store is 100 percent green powered through the purchase of renewable energy credits. Metcalfe’s at Hilldale also uses energy-saving night shades to cover its open produce coolers at night in order to conserve the cold air in them and save energy.

Kevin Metcalfe

“We have a ‘why’ that we live by at Metcalfe’s — we connect and enrich people, our community, and beyond,” says Kevin Metcalfe, director of operations and fourth generation co-owner of Metcalfe’s. “One of the ways we do that is through sustainability efforts. It’s our responsibility as business owners to make sure we leave things better than we found them. It starts with where food comes from — things like how it has been farmed, raised, produced, and grown and how far it’s traveled to get to our shelves — and how we work to communicate those things to our shoppers.

“Sustainable seafood is another example. Our seafood program is certified by an independent, third-party organization called Fishwise that helps us to promote the health and recovery of ocean ecosystems through environmentally and socially responsible business practices,” Metcalfe adds.

At the other end of the cycle is food waste, according to Metcalfe. In the U.S., $165 billion worth of food is wasted each year and 40 percent of the food produced in the U.S. goes uneaten. In order to help combat the food waste epidemic, Metcalfe’s has a compost program with Purple Cow Organics where Purple Cow collects all of Metcalfe’s non-consumable produce and makes it into compost, which Metcalfe’s sells at its stores each spring. Metcalfe’s also works with DateCheckPro to raise shopper awareness of soon-to-expire items and offer shoppers a savings on those items, and by selling those items, ensuring they won’t end up in a landfill.

In terms of return on investment, Metcalfe says a commitment to green power sources doesn’t cut costs in and of itself. However, using clean, renewable energy sources is an investment the company believes must be made for the benefit of the communities it operates in.

“Clean energy is better for our growing environments, and we want to do what we can do to support our local farmers and producers,” notes Metcalfe. “[However,] things like our LED lighting upgrade see a tangible ROI. We worked with MGE’s Shared Savings program to replace 3,000 lamps and fixtures at our Hilldale market with LED lighting. The project cost around $200,000, but the upgrade is expected to yield $58,000 in annual energy savings, which is more than half of this location’s lighting costs.

“Additionally, maintenance savings are estimated to be more than $12,000 annually. We will realize a full return on this investment in about three years.”

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Since 2012, Metcalfe’s has made an effort to reach out to the local community to create connections that last beyond Earth Day.

“Before 2012, we handed out tree seedlings for folks to plant on Earth Day,” explains Metcalfe. “While that program supported our sustainability efforts, it wasn’t something that could touch the lives of all of our shoppers every day. Sustain Dane approached us about a free, reusable bag program to include students, and we thought it was a great fit, both for the educational benefit, as well as providing something that our shoppers identify with each and every visit with us.”

Now, each year Metcalfe’s provides 4,500 reusable shopping bags to local Madison schools for students to decorate as they learn about sustainability, and then takes those bags back and gives them out to shoppers on Earth Day for free.

“Bringing in your own bag is a simple way to reduce waste that all of our shoppers can do with their free bag, every day,” says Metcalfe. “We’ve expanded the program to our Wauwatosa store, too, partnering with the Wauwatosa Public Schools there.”

Metcalfe’s shoppers also receive a 10-cent bag credit year round for each reusable bag they bring into stores when they shop. “Single-use bags are an issue we know is important to our shoppers and something we must address to continue as responsible stewards of our environment,” says Metcalfe. “We don’t have a timeline to eliminate them yet, but are working on it.”

While not all businesses can do things like using night shades to cover produce coolers at night or recycling non-consumable produce into compost, Metcalfe notes that the “why” filter the company uses can apply to every organization as it tackles sustainability.

“Does this initiative help us to connect and enrich people, our community, and beyond?” asks Metcalfe. “We consider our impact from start to finish — food sourcing, farming and growing practices, transportation, in-store practices, food waste. Are we making the best choices at each of those points? Do we have all the information we need to make good decisions for our business, our shoppers, and our community?

“We also stay on top of trends — for example, plastic straws,” Metcalfe continues. “That was a simple change in our cafes, and we immediately connected with suppliers of compostable options to review what was available and how we could make a change that both our shoppers and the larger community were asking for. Our next step is to get a compostable straw solution on our shelves for shoppers to purchase and use at home, but currently supply is an issue.”

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