Town Haul Podcast | Episode 8

  • Host: Amy Koonin (Rubicon)
  • Guest: Jason Wadsworth (Manager of Sustainability for Wegmans)
  • Listen on iTunes here

Wegmans is arguably the most beloved supermarket chain of all time. It’s Fortune’s #2 company to work for in 2018. It’s Consumer Reports’ top grocery store of 2017. Its products are even featured in The Office.

In addition to having a cult following, Wegmans has an exemplary commitment to sustainable practices. The Town Haul’s Amy Koonin chats with Wegmans’ Manager of Sustainability Jason Wadsworth about the supermarket’s company culture, zero waste efforts, and the Wegmans hot bar.

On what managing sustainability for Wegmans looks like:

WADSWORTH: “Back in 2007 when I started doing sustainability for Wegmans it was a pretty new concept. Before that it was called environmental recycling; reduce, reuse, recycle. Those were the terms thrown out in the late ’80s, early ’90s so when sustainability came out it was really educating about what is sustainability and learning what we were already doing at Wegmans that would be considered a sustainable business practice.

We came up with a mission statement about reducing our emissions, figuring out what’s our current footprint, reducing our waste to landfill, and providing sustainable packaging and product choices for our customers. That’s really where we’ve tried to focus these last 11 years.”

On how Wegmans decided to take on a zero waste goal:

WADSWORTH: “You’re not going to get there overnight. It’s a journey and again you have to piece it up, break it up and to manage little bits. For Wegmans we had a challenge from our senior executives.

Let’s take a store as far down that path of zero waste as we can. Like everything we’re talking about here, measurement is key. That’s where Rubicon really helps us with measurement.

We started to come up with a baseline for the test store that we were going to pilot. They were at about a 62% diversion rate. For folks out there, the diversion rate is calculated by measuring what you recycle by what you throw away. Then we just came up with a plan to try to tackle the things that were going to make the most difference.”

On the misunderstanding over paper vs. plastic bags:

WADSWORTH:  “We firmly believe using a reusable bag is the best way to reduce plastic use, but the plastic bag gets a bad rap, I think, pun intended. Science has shown that the plastic bag if recycled is actually a best practice. You can use your reusable, that’s the best, plastic if you recycle it is the second best, and actually paper is the least desired option for the environment. Paper’s heavy, you’re chopping down trees to do it. It takes a lot more trucks to transport the same amount of paper as plastic.

There’s an environmental tale there that most people don’t think about and making paper is pretty dirty. You use a lot of chemicals in that water, discharge water, it goes on and on. Using plastic, as long as you recycle it, that is an environmentally-friendly practice.

What we do at Wegmans is we collect plastic bags from all our customers, combine that with what we collect in the back of the store from shrink wrap loads, grocery loads, and so on and then we’re making brand new bags right out of that material. Each one of our plastic bags has 40% post-consumer recycled content and it’s all our stuff.”

On how Wegmans walks the tightrope between sustainability and affordable prices:

WADSWORTH:   “That came up early on when we were talking about sustainability. Really we developed this mindset: it’ll be good for the environment, good for our people and our customers and good for our business, and there’s that sweet spot in the center.

We’re always looking at innovation. We’re always looking at what is the cost of that innovation and sometimes we’re taking a little longer look. Food waste, in particular, is one way that we’ve partnered with local food waste haulers in a way that has not been done before where we’re helping them compete with landfills.

We’re also building infrastructure and making sure that there are food waste haulers and processors in our environment regions so that we’re able to do the right thing with food waste which gets us down that road to zero waste a lot further.”

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