Keeping the Green in GreenStar

By Kristie Snyder,
GreenLeaf Editor

In April, “going green” is on all of our minds as we prepare to celebrate the 39th annual Earth Day, mindful of the urgent threats of climate change and the challenges we face in creating a sustainable society. Being “green” is a central part of what GreenStar is all about — it’s right there in our name —  and we’ve long used the color green to express who we are, a tradition continued with our new logo.

Part of GreenStar’s mission statement is “exercising ecological responsibility and leadership.” In September 2003, Council passed its Ecological Responsibility and Leadership Policy, charging the General Manager with ensuring that “the store’s activities and practices, including its product line, minimize negative impacts and maximize positive impacts on the environment and that GreenStar takes a leadership role in exercising ecological responsibility.”

While GreenStar’s Council and staff have striven for environmental responsibility from the Co-op’s first days, over the past year and a half many improvements and changes have been made to conserve energy and minimize waste, and plans are underway to undertake even more green measures. “My goal is to do anything, any project, as green as possible,” said General Manager Bini Reilly.

Energy use is a huge chunk of anyone’s ecological footprint, GreenStar included. The Co-op currently buys 50 percent of its electricity from alternative energy sources. Under the direction of Facilities Manager Karl Heimann, the majority of the West-End and Oasis stores’ electrical appliances have been replaced with more efficient models in the past 18 months, including coolers, stoves, freezers and compressors, and more energy-efficient lighting has been installed in both locations. At the West-End location, over the past six months, electricity use has been reduced about 10 percent from last year. Even the new signs on the exterior of the West-End location were selected with efficiency in mind; the large sign on the Buffalo Street side of the store uses less energy than a conventional, incandescent 60-watt light bulb.

Efforts to reduce the energy spent on heating have been implemented as well. Last year the ceiling in most of the West-End store was lowered, a project completed recently with the lowering of the ceiling in the register and dining area, and “air curtains” have been installed in both locations, designed to keep hot air in during the winter and out during the summer. The recent enclosure of the receiving area in the West-End store has also reduced heating needs.

GreenStar will soon be generating its own electricity, with the addition of 18 solar panels to the roof of the newly-enclosed receiving area. And, with the addition of the proposed expansion on the south side of the building, room will be made to add up to 81 additional panels. The final number of panels, to be determined by available funding opportunities, will allow GreenStar to generate between three and five percent of its electricity needs. Reilly hopes to use the savings to increase the Co-op’s purchase of renewable electricity to 100 percent.

Measures to conserve water have been taken recently as well. The older toilet in the customer bathroom, which used 2.75 gallons per flush, has been replaced with a low-flow, dual-flush model, which uses .75 gallons per half flush and 1.6 gallons per full flush. Reilly plans to replace the staff toilet with a similar, water-saving model.

To reduce waste, the Deli has switched to using almost all compostable containers, and shoppers who choose to eat in the store have their choice of reusable or compostable plates and utensils. A compost receptacle in the dining area collects compostable plates, napkins, cups, utensils and food waste. Food scraps from the Deli and Produce departments are composted, and leftover food is donated to Loaves and Fishes or the Friendship Donation Network. “We don’t throw out edible food,” emphasized Reilly.

As much material as possible is recycled — all cardboard and paper products, plastic containers, metal and glass. Old electronics and fluorescent lightbulbs are recycled, and even packing materials like bubble wrap and peanuts are offered to customers for reuse. Non-recyclable waxed produce boxes are given to local farmers for reuse. To “close the loop” of recycled products, GreenStar purchases recycled paper for office use, and GreenLeaf is printed on 100 percent post-consumer recycled newsprint. Using less paper is a big objective for Reilly. She has encouraged the use of electronic documents, calendars and email as an alternative to printing reams of paper, and plans to replace the current credit card system with an electronic “signature capture” system that will make printed receipts optional.

GreenStar has also taken steps to reduce its use of plastic bags; the bags offered at the registers and for bulk purchases were recently replaced with biodegradable bags made of corn, and the Produce Department recently replaced its bags with 100 percent recycled plastic bags. Customers who bring in their own bags to reuse for bagging groceries are given a 5 cent rebate per bag, and GreenStar sells a variety of reusable bags. Customers are encouraged to bring their own bags and containers for bulk purchases as well. Buyers of bulk eggs can return their cartons to the store for reuse, and Deli customers can also bring in their own containers.

Earth-friendly cleaning products are used throughout the stores, and soon, local, eco-friendly liquid soap from 17th Century Suds will be in the bathroom dispensers. A new steam-cleaner makes cleaning products unnecessary; it gets the job done with just hot water. New products, paints and finishes are selected with an eye toward reducing toxicity; the new paint job at Oasis was done with low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints. The proposed expansion of the store will utilize as many green, non-toxic or recycled products as possible. Pam Wooster, GreenStar’s Store Architect, is striving to meet LEED standards in the design and materials of the expansion. The LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification system promotes integrated, whole-building design practices, including on-site renewable energy, energy conservation and use of high performance windows and non-toxic, sustainable materials and products. 

GreenStar’s green initiatives extend to its product line as well, and buyers strive to provide local, organic and minimally-packaged options. Reilly estimates that 30 to 40 percent of GreenStar’s current product line is organic, and that five percent of all items are locally produced. GreenStar’s Deli does not use any GMO-containing ingredients, and buyers do not knowingly source GMO products in the rest of the store, though, as Reilly pointed out, it can be nearly impossible to trace the ingredients of all products and thus guarantee that all products in the store are GMO-free.

GreenStar’s impact extends outside of the store walls, to transportation of the goods it sells. By supporting local suppliers, food “travel miles” are reduced. GreenStar’s delivery van, used to transport food and supplies between the West-End and Oasis locations, has been using biodiesel when possible, and GreenStar is currently looking for a regular biodiesel supplier. GreenStar recently began selling TCAT passes, which should help make shoppers aware of public transportation options for getting to the stores, and has been supportive of Ithaca Carshare (most recently, offering gift certificates as prizes for random Carshare users). Reilly dreams of bringing a bikeshare program to Ithaca. “We’re looking for partners to make a bikesharing program happen, if any community organizations want to work with us on that,” she said.

“Going green” is an ongoing goal, and there can always be more done to reduce our impact on the earth. Reilly recognizes that there is still work to be done. “We’re open to hearing things we haven’t heard,” she said. “There are so many people working for sustainability in this community — we want to hear your input.”

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