Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Are Supermarkets selling Sustainability short?

Are Supermarkets Selling Sustainability Short?

They are if their image of sustainability is just a veneer. They are if they think the week's specials are more important than the survival of a high quality ecosystem. They are if they are NOT involved in educating consumers.

This 3-part post series focuses on the need for supermarkets not only to become sustainable but to report their practices to consumers, so that each person in his or her role as a consumer can make those informed choices that best support a vibrant global ecosystem along with best quality of life as conceptualized by that consumer. Local grocery markets are rated in this post for their stewardship practices, using easily accessed online reporting on their home website as a proxy for stewardship.  Rationales are at the bottom of this page.

Access to comprehensive, transparent information is key to informed decision-making, the basis for sharing  the privileges and responsibilities of caring for our global ecosystem (stewardship) and fundamental to the conservation and restoration of best quality of life for all living creatures. 

 The rationale for using online reporting as a proxy for stewardship is presented at the bottom of this page, following the list of markets rated.  The ratings below do not necessarily reflect ecological performance, which require distinct criteria from those of stewardship and a proxy indicator such as online reporting.

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Santa Barbara & Goleta Markets Rated for Shared-Stewardship

 Proxy Rating

Whole Foods:

 Ralphs/Kroger  75/100
 Vons/Safeway  75/100
 Albertsons/Supervalu  60/100

Chapala Market; Costco, European Deli; Gelsons, Lazy Acres; Oriental Market, Nikka; Santa Cruz Markets; Smart and Final, Trader Joes 0 All of these markets received a “0” for no information regarding sustainability on the landing page of their website

 Highest per Widest per Deepest

 The top scoring market rated by RewardintheCognitiveNiche (RCN) for online reporting, used here as a proxy for global stewardship, is WholeFoods Market, with a score of 80/100. Since the WholeFoods chain tends to operate in a relatively decentralized fashion, just the local Santa Barbara market's online reporting was assessed. Result: the Santa Barbara WholeFoods Market is considered the highest per widest per deepest of all markets rated. This is an optimization value in which highest stands for quality, or beauty, widest stands for the best ecological information accessible to the greatest number of decision-makers (online ecological reporting),  and deepest metaphorically represents actual ecological practices.  The goal is stewardship practices shared equitably between producers and consumers. Stewardship sharing between producers and consumers seems to be the only collaboration that can work fast enough and well enough and just in time, if at all, for the ultimate goal of the preservation/restoration of quality of life (biodiversity quality of life).

The metric used to represent highest per widest per deepest is a number between 0 and 100, something easily understood, readily comparable, and finer tuned than a color chart of green for good and red for avoid (typical of seafood sustainability ratings). If three markets are rated green for seafood sustainability, for example, that rating may not inform a consumer of a specific concern regarding a specific such as marine reserves or recreational catch of spiny lobster, both of which could in fact affect a local consumer and local sustainability concerns.

Whole Foods Market has a grabby sustainability statement upfront and unmissable on the landing page of its website, with a fold-out menu offering information about most of the concerns of most of the environmentalists/ecologists (e.g., energy sources and offsets, waste disposal, chemicals and other pollutants emitted)  commitment to local community simultaneously with awareness of global processes, sustainable seafood,aquaculture, and links to a comprehensive array of  ecological sustainability information on the landing page of its website, all of which reflect a deep and long-viewing leadership commitment to ecological sustainability. All of this information is two clicks from start to specific facts, making accessibility easy and immediate, the sine-qua-non for online users. This site is exemplary for purposes of online reporting, so it receives the highest score for stewardship.

 The complete list of markets that were rated, including representatives of all major Western US grocery chains, can be found below. All markets received a rating of zero to 100.If there was no mention of environment, sustainability, or green practices on the landing page of a website, the stewardship score is zero, regardless of the sustainability practices of that market. In a nutshell, my claim is that only the most earnest will scroll down a website to discover a sustainability link or plug in a few likely search terms into a local search engine to discover the sustainability credentials of a grocery market. If sustainability isn't being featured as a top issue on a market's landing page, then it is being sold short to consumers. Investors will go the extra mile and track down information affecting corporate image, but the average consumer in search of a bargain for the weekend will not. No one new will be converted to sustainable practices if they are not directly addressed as part of their search for good deals for their family. How this works is addressed in the next post, Who's the Decider?

Some of the markets rated zero are deeply committed to sustainability practices,and some are leaders in specialized areas of sustainability, such as sustainable seafood or carbon neutrality. But what is being rated here is stewardship, or the easy sharing between producers and consumers worldwide of comprehensive information about sustainability commitment and actual practices. Consumers need good information to decide among products, and producers need good information to see what they are addressing in their practices.

The last post in this series breaks down some exemplary sustainability performances by the top rated markets, briefly acknowledges their impressive accomplishments and implies improving stewardship practices through online reporting of their practices.

Below is the list.

The Santa Barbara/Goleta Markets Rated for Stewardship

 60/100: Albertsons (Supervalu):the term "sustainability is on the home page under "About Us". Not obvious or attention-grabbing, but there, if you scroll to the bottom. NOT OBVIOUS! Albertsons and Supervalu are, it turns out with some searching, highly engaged in admirable sustainability projects.If you plug in the term "sustainability" to the site-specific search engine on Supervalu, 71 hits come up, among which is the following, which presents an attractive sustainability image: Home > About SUPERVALU > Sustainability.  This chain is committed to becoming carbon neutral, to zero waste, to sustainable seafood, community projects, zero waste, and more. 60/100  More detail in the next post.

Chapala Market: no home page, so no mention on home page of anything related to sustainability or environment. 0/100

Costco: If one searches hard, Costco will be discovered to be committed to sustainability and engaged in many admirable practices, including using solar power wherever possible. Partnership with consumers in stewardship does not seem to be a top level commitment.So although Costco is recognized worldwide for sustainabilty practices, this particular evaluation rates only communication with consumers through online reporting, which is a proxy for shared stewardship.. No mention on the home page means an automatic 0/100. More detail on sustainability measures on the next post.

European Deli Although this is the go-to market for Russian and Eastern European delicacies, there is no mention of sustainability. So score is 0/100.

Gelsons gets a zero for lack of mention of sustainability on home page: 0/100

Indo-China Market: while outstanding selection of speciality Middle Eastern and Asian foods and kitchenware,no website, so mention of key sustainability terms on home page. 0/100

Lazy Acres: Lazy acres was purchased in 2005 by Bristol Farms, an upscale Southern California grocery chain, which was purchased in 2010 from Supervalu by the private investment firm, Endeavour Capital. While Lazy Acres  has a great choice of gourmet speciality items, organic produce, beef and poultry,  and bin grains and nuts, there is no mention of any of the primary search terms used by RewardintheCognitiveNiche on the home page: sustainability, environmental, or green. So Lazy Acres is rated 0/100.

Oriental Market: no mention of key sustainability terms, no website. 0/100

Nikka:    The go-to market for Japanese products, but no mention of key sustainability terms on home page. 0/100.

75/100  Ralphs:  a subsidiary of Kroger, one of the world's largest retailers, Ralphs has a link to substantial sustainability information on their homepage dropdown menu. 75/100

Santa Cruz Markets:  no mention of key sustainability terms on home page. 0/100.

Smart and Final :  no mention of key sustainability terms on home page. 0/100.

Trader Joe's: no mention on home page of sustainability, green living, environment, etc. 0/100

75/100 Vons (Safeway): Von's sustainability link is located at bottom of page; not salient, but there. 75/100. Vons is a subsidiary of Safeway, which like other major chains, is highly involved into sustainability practices. Safeway received Greenpeace's highest award for sustainable seafood, along with recognition for sustainability practices from numerous organizations. Safeway's annual reporting is informed by the world's gold standard for voluntary sustainability reporting--the Global Reporting initiative, known as the GRI. More detail in the next post.

 80/100 Whole Foods: "Whole Planet — We are committed to helping take care of the world around us, and our active support of organic farming and sustainable agriculture helps protect our planet. And while we assist our global neighbors through our Whole Planet Foundation’s micro-lending operations, we also step out the back door of each of our stores to support food banks, sponsor neighborhood events and donate to local non-profit groups."  

Whole foods has a broad sustainability commitment on the home page of the local SB market and makes a clear (and rare) distinction between organic and sustainable. As in the quote above, Wholefoods also engages in local community partnerships. More detail in the next post. 80/100

Rationales for Using Online Reporting as  Proxy for the Awareness, Community, and Sharing Aspects of Stewardship

An estimated 2 billion people in the world now use the Internet, either through computers or cell phones. In the 21st century the Internet is without question the foremost medium for communication to the widest spectrum of population. While possibly not the deepest medium, it certainly is the widest and maybe also the highest.What makes the internet a runaway success is that it allows humans across the planet to almost instantly communicate whatever they wish to communicate, regardless of how any one message impacts others. Online reporting uses this channel to communicate networks of messages about sustainability, which in the long run, may affect everyone and everything and be both bottom line and upper limit. Seek high ground is important to those about to be flooded; run and hide to those about to be decimated. Consider and evaluate messages are for those with the luxury of the time and resources for acquiring the best information possible on which to decide.

Because gathering good information, evaluating it, and comparing the implications for good decision-making can be overwhelmingly resource intensive, rating systems will emerge to reduce the risk of cognitive overload by condensing much of this information without loss of integrity. Neural marketing shows that even the briefest contact with information  triggers neuronal activity and lays a base for conscious awareness and future action. When the home page of a grocery store features sustainability or has a link along with links to weekly specials and coupons the consumer's awareness of sustainability increases, along with that consumer's valuing of the importance of sustainability to everyday life.

Online reporting is a critical practice for ecological sustainability. Online reporting simplifies and can deepen the quality of communication between producers and consumers. Despite its youth, online reporting, possibly as an concomitant to increased Corporate Social Responsibility, has already evolved its own standards of excellence. Criteria for good online reporting, supported by the pioneering work of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) as well as other institutions such as the ISO 14000,  and other standards for environmental management systems and environmental performance evaluation, respectively: standards include transparency, comprehensiveness, and usability. Increased transparent communication can increase trust between producer and consumer, something which is frequently at risk in many expressions of most media. 

Online reporting increases the likelihood of informed actions with beneficial outcomes. Online reporting and the potential outcome of informed choice can support businesses that accept stewardship as part of their stake in both present and future.

Online reporting of ecologically sustainable food market practices  has the capability of
increasing global ecological awareness of an issue which is formidably complex:: specifically, the awareness of the complex functioning of a vibrant ecosystem, with its subtle and remarkable interrelationships and unpredicted emergencies. Online reporting can illuminate some of the risks of nottrying---decision-by-decision---to do the right thing by the environment. Through online reporting consumers and producers can help each other realize the degree to which they are interdependent. and need to collaborate on securing the best possible future.

 The arguments for using online reporting are presented above, but in brief, online reporting has to potential to affect decision-making processes of at least two billion people, about 25 % of the world's human population.

the Gri:  our Reporting Model

Our major model for online reporting and its importance for the future is the universal gold standard, the GRI, or the Global Reporting Initiative. The Gri is a voluntary reporting of sustainability practices and commitments that has become a huge influence on global corporate sustainability-imaging practices and on people like me, the author of this blog. In 2012, the Gri is the gold standard for online reporting.

 Specific to this rating process is 1) free access to all (no membership fees); 2) one of the three key terms on the landing page of the market's website (environment, sustainability, green living or practices;  3) less than 3 links to enough information to allow an interested consumer to compare sustainability among local markets and make an informed decision; 4) evidence of authentic performance 5) inferability from website that producer is willing to share stewardship with consumers; 6) longview, good plan that is adaptable to change; 7) education of consumers;8) community participation, projects

Reasons after Results

Evaluation of food markets for ecological stewardship turns out to involve many judgment calls. The supermarket stores that represent chains that are top by number of stores and volume of sales are Albertsons, Costco, Ralphs, Vons, WholeFoods, and Gelsons. All realize that sustainability is a key issue and most have communicated performances that make these markets appear admirable. How should we compare sustainable performance across these markets? Given that our purpose is raising awareness and increasing understanding of how ecosystems work most beautifully, we have made a judgment call regarding how and have focused on what we think is key to global ecosystem sustainability: open access to comprehensive information about company ecological practices, so consumers can vote with their dollars. The secret Santa Claus/Magnificent Obsession models of good deeds will not be fast enough or wide enough to save the day.

 The next post addresses the model of neuromarketing as one that might be well used by markets genuinely committed to sustainability and not just the green image of environmental friendliness. It highlights special achievements of some markets as models for all.