The grocery sector in the United States has an immense environmental footprint.


The average 50,000 square-foot supermarket uses roughly 2.5 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity per year. By comparison, the average family home will use approximately 11,000 kWh annually. According to the national Energy Star program, this, coupled with natural gas use, results in the annual emission of 1,900 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere per store.


Running the nation’s 36,000 supermarkets produces about 68.4 million tons of carbon dioxide each year, equivalent to the annual emissions of almost 13 million cars.


In addition to in-store energy use, each step in the grocery sector’s supply chain –from shipping to waste disposal – produces its own range of environmental impacts. While many grocery chains have tried to make their stores more sustainable, there has been no comprehensive national grocery store sustainability certification system.


Manomet saw this as an opportunity to make real progress toward sustainability. Program Manager Peter Cooke developed the Manomet Grocery Stewardship Certification (GSC) Program, a cutting-edge tool to help grocery store leadership reduce their environmental footprint.


“The grocery sector can really benefit from a third-party system like we have developed here at Manomet,” Cooke said. “Our model will help grocers reduce their environmental footprint and engage their employees and their customers in sustainability.”


The program was launched as a partnership with Maine-based Hannaford supermarkets in September 2012, and Cooke recently audited his 25th Hannaford store. 


As part of the program, store managers fill out the Manomet certification workbook, which evaluates each store’s current sustainability measures. The workbook scores categories such as energy efficiency, waste reduction and recycling, employee engagement, environmental education, storm water impacts and water conservation.


Stores also receive points for offering large selections of organic produce, hormone and antibiotic-free meat products and dairy products that are produced less than 250 miles away.


After a store’s scores are determined, Manomet staff work with store leadership to build new environmental protocols and engage employees to improve workbook scores over time.


“Market research has shown that most consumers are interested in whether stores are taking sustainability measures,” Cooke said. “People care about sustainability, and certification programs like this allow them to translate that not only into their choices about what products to buy, but their choices about where to shop.” 


The sustainability checklist includes a wide range of measures that consumers may not yet have considered, like whether a store sends its compost to pig farms, whether LEDs are used in its refrigeration units, the clarity of signage indicating which sections contain natural and organic foods and whether organic and non-organic foods are separated to avoid cross-contamination.


Ninety-six of Hannaford’s 181 locations are slated to be included in the certification program.  Cooke will spend the next several months visiting Hannaford stores in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont. 


“The program is destined to be a model for the grocery sector and perhaps other sectors,” said Natural Capital Initiative Director Andy Whitman. “This framework is expanding and being taken up by other nationwide companies and could ultimately reach the entire grocery sector.”


– Haley Jordan