Sustainability: The strongest foundation

Originally published in the the Share – Spring 2016 issue

There have been a lot of big changes at The Wedge in the last year: We opened the Table on Nicollet, we expanded operations at CPW, and we began a much needed remodel at the Lyndale store. It’s an exciting time, even more so because each project has created opportunities to renew our commitment to a more sustainable way of doing things.

Erin Hertog has a unique job description. As the Wedge’s Organic Certification and Sustainability Coordinator, she works to identify sustainability goals and help all the different departments tackle them. Each month, she makes copies of energy and heating bills, gathers refrigeration service invoices, pores over garbage hauler reports, and tabulates data points for 15 different measures of sustainability. Hertog is meticulous and determined to use the data she dutifully collects to make the Wedge even better. Every year, she compiles these metrics into an annual sustainability report, in addition to cataloguing all the other initiatives she has pushed through over the course of the past 12 months.

In her estimation, she’s one of just a handful of people whose whole job is devoted to doing this kind of work. While other co-ops have employees who take on the reporting task in addition to their other roles, the Wedge is one of only three co-ops that have a dedicated Sustainability Coordinator, out of the 60 co-ops that participate in sustainability reporting through the National Co-op Grocers Association. “It really speaks to the importance that we place on sustainability as an organization,” she says.

Wedge Table earns leed silver certification

In December 2015, the Wedge Table received notice that it had met the requirements to earn a LEED Silver Certification. LEED, or Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, is a green-building certification program that recognizes best-in-class building strategies and practices. To receive LEED certification, building projects must satisfy prerequisites and earn points across 12 different categories such as water efficiency, materials and resources, and green infrastructure. Hertog worked with the Wedge Table’s Project Director, Kristi Pluimer, to find ways to meet the requirements for the LEED application. These included engaging in responsible construction practices, like installing energy-efficient plumbing fixtures, putting in skylights, and recycling 75 percent of the demolition wastes.

Hertog also worked on some additional innovation and design credits, such as organic certification, the solid waste management program, and purchasing practices for local, compostable, and recyclable materials. Today, when you go to the Table, you can see some of the hallmarks of LEED certification in the light-sensitive LED lighting, that changes intensity with the time of day, and the separate bins for trash, compost, and recycling. But there are lots of things you don’t see-like the shower and changing room in the staff bathroom to encourage people to bike to work, and the white reflective roof that reduces the urban heat island effect. All of these efforts combined represent a holistic green design of the building that is unique among co-op retailers. “And because of the certification,” says Hertog, “we’re able to prove that we’re really making sustainability a priority.”

Lyndale remodel tackles inefficiencies

In February, we began the first phase of the Lyndale remodel construction project, which will provide many new services to Wedge customers, as well as improve the flow of the store and replacing the roof and HVAC systems. Throughout the planning process with our architects at Cuningham Group, we’ve focused on balancing customer desires with necessary upgrades to our equipment and systems. “Our biggest opportunity, from a sustainability standpoint is energy efficiency,” says Hertog. “Our equipment is so old. Anything is going to be an improvement.”

In addition to a new HVAC system, LED lighting and high-efficiency plumbing fixtures and fans, we’re also installing a refrigeration heat-recapture system. It works like this: a significant amount of waste heat is generated by the condensors of our refrigeration systems, heat that gets lost in our current setup. With the new system, we’ll be able to recover that heat and use it to preheat our water before it goes into the water heaters. Which means we’ll use less natural gas, which is a big deal since the continual operation of our refrigeration systems accounts for nearly half of our total electrical energy consumption.

With the remodel, we’re setting our sustainability sights high. The goal is to achieve a 30 percent reduction in water usage, as well as an overall reduction in energy consumption for the Lyndale location. We’re also adding space for additional future bike racks to encourage even more people to cycle to the store. Packaging is also getting an overhaul: all containers at the new hotfoods and salad bar will be compostable, as will all beverage containers from the coffee and juice bar. All grab-and-go items are going to be both recyclable and made out of 100 percent recycled content. It’s a project Hertog is heavily involved in. “I hate waste.” she says. “Like, digging-trash-out-of-therecycling-bin hate it.”

A passion for waste reduction

In December 2015, the Wedge on Lyndale started commercially composting for the first time. Hertog single handedly made it happen. There had been previous efforts to get on-site composting, but the machine was so big it would have taken up a parking spot. Given the demand for parking, you can imagine why the initiative didn’t get very far. So when Hertog came in, she just wanted to simplify things. She contracted with a private hauler, brought in a dumpster that would fit, and trained employees from each department about what could go in and what couldn’t. Now, each month it diverts 20,000 pounds of scraps from the Juice Bar, Deli, and Produce departments, that had previously been hauled away to a landfill. “It’s probably the thing I’m most proud of in this job, as a personal accomplishment,” she says. “It was a big ‘we did it’ moment for me.”

Hertog is slightly maniacal about waste, but not in a despotic, punishing way. She’s much more likely to wade into a trash can and fish out banana peels and apple cores than say a harsh word to anyone about separating compost. Her fervor and sense of self-reliance was picked up on the farms where she worked before coming to the Wedge. And she has big plans to follow her obsession and push to reduce the Wedge’s waste footprint even further. “As a whole organization we’re doing about 60 percent landfill diversion. But I think it’s very achievable to get up to 80-90 percent.” And she’s optimistic about those goals because of the positive response she’s seen from her coworkers. “I can’t tell you how many people now come up to me and say, ‘Is this compostable? Is this recyclable?’ There’s tremendous staff engagement and a real shared sense that this stuff is important. Sustainability really is the backbone of a lot of the decisions that we make at the Wedge.”

Sustainability highlights for 2015

Wedge Table leed silver certified!
Lyndale store adds commercial composting service, diverts an additional 20,000 pounds of organic waste each month!
Co-op Partners warehouse adds skylights and motion sensors!
Find out more about the ways in which we’re committing to a greener future in The Wedge 2015 Sustainability Report