Publix 'Out of the Closet' on Sustainability

Though it has long been mindful of the environment, it is only in the past eight months that Publix Super Markets has made sustainability a tier-one corporate initiative and just as important opened up about its activities, said Michael Hewett, manager of environmental services for the chain. Prior to this change, Publix, based in Lakeland, Fla., kept its sustainability efforts mostly under

LAS VEGAS — Though it has long been mindful of the environment, it is only in the past eight months that Publix Super Markets has made sustainability a “tier-one corporate initiative” and — just as important — opened up about its activities, said Michael Hewett, manager of environmental services for the chain.

Prior to this change, Publix, based in Lakeland, Fla., kept its sustainability efforts mostly under wraps. “We were looking at new technology to improve the fuel efficiency of our trucks, as well as refrigeration and lighting technology, but we weren't talking about it — in some cases, not even to each other,” Hewett said last week during a session on “Sustainability in Action” at the Food Marketing Institute Show/Marketechnics here. “We were in the closet on sustainability. It wasn't part of our culture.”

Last July Publix decided to alter that culture after its president, Ed Crenshaw, attended the first Florida Climate Summit. “He heard other companies and realized we were doing the same things [with sustainability], except that those companies were measuring, tracking, packaging and marketing it,” said Hewett. Then sustainability “caught on at Publix with a vengeance.”

In the past year, Publix, which runs more than 900 stores, has joined FMI's Sustainability Task Force and established a page on its website dedicated to sustainability. Later this year the retailer will launch a micro-website detailing its sustainability programs. “We've begun working on our message,” Hewett said.

On a corporate level, Hewett said, Publix over the past eight months has obtained “senior management buy-in” for sustainability initiatives and “made it clear it's a major initiative for our company.” It has also developed a cross-functional team comprising 40 executives from different business units. In addition, recognizing that “no one at Publix was an expert on sustainability,” the company recruited “smart people” from outside the organization.

Last year Publix joined a handful of other retailers in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's GreenChill Advanced Refrigeration Partnership with the supermarket industry. Officially launched in late November, the program aims to reduce refrigerant emissions in stores and promote the use of non-ozone-depleting refrigerants and advanced refrigeration technology.

One Publix sustainability program touted by Hewett at the conference session is called “getting into a green routine,” launched in 2002. In essence, it focuses on instilling simple “behavioral changes” in store employees, such as turning off lights, closing receiving room doors and freezer doors, and shutting off computers. “Just common-sense measures we had not reinforced before,” said Hewett.

In addition to training, the store employed posters, signs and stickers on light switches as reminders.