Wal-Mart Touts Sustainability, but Food Lion Grows Green, too

Last Updated Jul 16, 2009 12:42 PM EDT

While Wal-Mart prepares to launch a new sustainability initiative with suppliers, the moment might be right to consider how other retailers, such as Food Lion, continue to push an environmental agenda despite the recession.

Although consumers are backing off some of their environmental priorities in the face of the prolonged recession, demonstrating less enthusiasm for organic food, for example, a significant number of retailers continue to launch green projects. Cost is a factor. Many green initiatives cut operating costs even if that might be achieved only with an initial investment for, say, skylights. With service reductions and the narrowing of products offered in the assortment rationalization initiatives occurring at many stores, retailers have been cutting costs in ways that are unlikely to make their customers happier. However, environmental initiatives, even those that darken the store a little with passing clouds, generally get more kudos than complaints. And they can generate a little positive press. On Tuesday, Food Lion broke ground on what will be its first store developed for certification by under the Energy and Environmental Design program of the United States Green Buildings Council. The last sentence is a bit torturous for a reason. The store can't get LEED Certification without inspection, but it can follow the USGBC guidelines and install enough environmentally friendly elements to ensure it will get the nod.

Among those elements:

  • High-efficiency lighting that dims in response to natural sunlight in the store or when secondary space such as an office or restroom is not in use.
  • LED lighting in frozen food cases.
  • Preferred parking for low-emitting vehicles and placement of bike racks.
  • Sensor-activated, low-flow restroom water fixtures.
  • Native vegetation planted to minimize irrigation requirements on the grounds.
  • Low-toxicity materials and implementation of construction management plans to enhance air quality.
  • Store environmental education kiosks.
  • Locally produced building materials that requires less energy in transport.
  • Waste management plans to recycle construction debris.
  • Recycling programs.
The store, in the town of Columbia, will not only be Food Lion's but South Carolina's first LEED certified, or, in the more common reference, "green" grocery store, the company stated. Plans call for it to open in this year's fourth quarter. Prior to the store launch, Food Lion had been involved in some of the typical stuff, recycling shipping material and encouraging customers to use reusable bags, but it has stepped things up, detailing environmental initiatives at www.foodlion.com/greenstore, a site which provides information on the new LEED store project, the company's comprehensive energy conservation program and a test of bio-diesel generators, among other efforts.

Back on the Wal-Mart front, The New York Times today reported that the retailer will develop a sustainability index requiring vendors to rate products based on green criteria which it will report to customers. The initiative could have widespread ramifications if it forces suppliers to change how they manufacture products for everyone, but, as the Food Lion green store launch demonstrates, retail is pressing environmental efforts broadly. Even if Wal-Mart is identified as the leader, the industry in general is ensuring that sustainability remains top of mind and, critically, that its prepared when economic survival takes a less prominent position on the agenda of the post-recession consumer and the environment a greater one.