According to Melissa Elkins, Sustainability Program Coordinator and Administrative Assistant for the Community Food Co-op, the Co-op is committed to monitoring a variety of metrics related to its sustainability goals in an effort to consistently improve on its already impressive achievements.

The Community Food Co-op encourages green transportation. Photo courtesy: The Community Food Co-op.

“We track our performance in 11 key areas, ranging from energy use and solid waste reduction to labor statistics and community engagement,” said Elkins. “And, in 2013, we produced our first Annual Sustainability Report to help communicate the data and its impact on our community.”

Elkins explained that aside from the public reports, the data collected is sent to two third-party agencies for peer review: the Sustainable Food Trade Association (SFTA), a network of member businesses in the natural foods industry, and the National Co+op Grocers Co+efficient program. “Both organizations give the Co-op a platform to compare our data with other food cooperatives across the nation and provide an important support system for our reporting framework,” Elkins said. “It’s been a great tool for us to monitor our progress.”

But with all this data comes the challenge of just how to tell the story of the Co-op and its impact on the community. “We’re a leader in how we do business,” said Elkins. “We have a willingness to share our information with the community.”

This year marks a change for the Annual Sustainability Report. The report is now known as the Community Food Co-op Impact Report. It illustrates the valuable and telling data in a more consumer-friendly way. This further empowers consumers to understand and continue to trust decisions made by the Co-op, and illustrates the Co-op’s extensive care of the community.

Recycling is a major component to sustainability. Photo courtesy: The Community Food Co-op.

“We wanted to tell our story with a more relatable narrative, so we adopted a new format for our 2017 abridged report,” said Elkins. “We want to be leaders in environmental and social justice and show that impact on the community. This new report format helps us accomplish that objective.” The Co-op will still publish its full report, but the abridged version makes the information available earlier in the year, as it takes several months to crunch the data needed to generate the full report.

Elkins’ role extends beyond data gathering and includes working with the management team to set organizational sustainability goals for the year. In fact, the Downtown location already achieved one of the Co-op’s organization goals in the first quarter of 2017.

Working with volunteer auditor Gwen Larned from the WWU Associated Students Recycling Center, the Co-op discovered that with a few tweaks it was able to make an incredible impact in composting and waste reduction.

This beautiful mint plant is a deliciously aromatic example of the Community Food Co-op’s delicious produce. Photo courtesy: The Community Food Co-op.

After auditing its waste stream, the store made adjustments that, over the course of the year, resulted in sending 12 tons less waste to the landfill and increasing compost pickup by over 25 tons. “It’s definitely cost effective for the business to compost,” said Elkins. “Not to mention being better for our community.”

The Co-op made a number of notable achievements in 2016: the deli and bakery eliminated all GMO ingredients and started exclusively serving organic chicken in all housemade food, the Co-op became the only Energy Star certified grocery store west of the Rockies, and it was named one of the top 30 retailers in the nation by the EPA among green power supporters.

Melissa Elkins, Sustainability Program Coordinator and Administrative Assistant for the Community Food Co-op, is committed to fulfilling the Co-op’s sustainability goals. Photo courtesy: The Community Food Co-op.

The Co-op is proud to share its achievements in sustainability with the community. The Community Food Co-op Impact Report can be viewed online on its Sustainability page, where readers can also find information on organizational goals and the comprehensive sustainability reports from previous years. Or, stop by any Co-op location to pick up a hard copy of the Community Food Co-op Impact Report.

The Co-op’s commitment to sustainability is a tangible demonstration of The Co-op Difference—it’s just one aspect of what sets Whatcom County’s only community-owned grocery store apart from the pack.

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