Thursday, December 13, 2012

Shepherding Shared Stewardship: Whole Foods Leads the Flock

 Shared Stewardship and Supermarkets

This blog is about saving the good life, not just for those who make more than $250,000 and already are living it,  but for all of us. We maintain that the goal of living a better life is the engine that drives our species. Without that motivation, we are like sheep without a shepherd on a rocky mountain path.

Best quality of future life might still be possible if we all become wiser and start making the best decisions/actions possible to support a vibrant global ecosystem. Good decision-making requires commitment, relevant high quality data that is up-to-the-moment and science-based, and collaboration among producers and consumers (as a simple but useful distinction that includes every living creature).

Leaving aside for the moment both commitment and collaboration, the issue of acquiring good data seems like it might be a no-brainer. Performance metrics are as plentiful as French Fries. Raters of performance are as common as catsup. Relatively recent but multiplying rapidly is the flock that rates the raters. Several posts in this blog either rate raters or explore ratings, the most recent of which considered Greenpeace's rating of Safeway as #1 among supermarkets for seafood sustainability.

Keeping em Honest

Greenpeace is " the largest independent direct-action environmental organization in the world" and arguably, the most deservedly widely respected environmental-educator in the world. Their stated goal is to ensure the ability of Earth to nurture life in all its diversity. While their means are diverse, principal among these is to publish documents online that inform the public of what is happening ecologically, who is causing what, and what each of us can do to control the damage. The purpose of these publications is educational: to change attitudes and support behaviors that are ecologically sustainable. The assumption made and shared in this blog is that well-informed consumers can use purchasing power to encourage supermarkets to develop more sustainable practices, which in turn might preserve quality of life for us all, humans, fish, phytoplankton and others.

One of these publications is their supermarket seafood sustainability scorecard published annually. A rating of #1 should reflect top performance in sustainability practices, according to Greenpeace. Intuitively, a consumer who knows that Greenpeace rated Safeway #1 in the US might have confidence in buying seafood at Safeway or its subsidiaries, i.e., in the Santa Barbara area, Von's. In my last post I made a trip to Von's at La Cumbre with the question in mind "Are the fish at Von's sustainable?"  Are there guides to help me choose the most sustainable? A second question was "Does educating the consumer appear to be a top priority with the supermarket rated #1 by Greenpeace for sustainability?" My answer to both questions is no. Taken aback, I decided to check out the nearby Whole Foods, rated #4 by Greenpeace.

Is Whole Foods Shepherding the Stewards?

On December 12 I visited Whole Foods on State Street with the same questions asked at Von's: Does the supermarket clue the consumer as to which choices are most ecologically sustainable? Is there an attempt made to educate the consumer?

While both Safeway and Wholefoods have demonstrated leadership in seafood sustainability, leadership is no guarantee of global guidance. Locally, Von's failed the test of guidance, while Wholefoods surpassed.  At Wholefoods every fish displayed is rated according to the Marine Stewardship Council criteria for sustainability either yellow, meaning some issues, or green, meaning a good choice. The fishmonger at the Santa Barbara Wholefoods was well-informed and informative. No red-listed fish were being marketed. A sign was posted stating that Wholefoods had reached their sustainability goal of marketing only green or yellow seafood ahead of schedule and at present all foods sold there are considered good choices.

Accountability through Comprehensive Transparent Disclosure

Each post in this blog is designed to increase awareness of how dependent quality of life is on biodiversity. Each post is a kind of online report of how beauty and vibrant ecosystems are interdependent. Online reporting is advocated by this blogger as the premier channel through which consumers and producers can engage in a global learning community committed to sustaining  quality of life. Rating the reporters and their reports is equally part of the process of staying keenly aware of what is happening. The fact that Greenpeace rated Safeway #1 for seafood sustainability among supermarkets does not relieve consumers of the responsibility of keeping informed and alert and engaging fishmongers, managers or using online resources to register concern.