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Green Store Programs Can Spur a Culture Change

Green Store Programs Can Spur a Culture Change

It was with some chagrin that I read recently that in some of its regions Kroger has ended its practice of giving shoppers rebates of 3 to 5 cents or fuel discounts for each reusable shopping bag brought to stores.

Apparently the company found no significant difference between reusable bag usage in markets with rebates and those without them, according to an Associated Press report. Safeway is also phasing out the rebates in some areas.

I understand that the rebate was meant to drive reusable bag usage and cut down on costly plastic bags — and it wasn't succeeding in that aim. Yet shoppers who were used to getting the rebate missed it, the report said. I can sympathize.

At the Stop & Shop where I do my grocery shopping in Danbury, Conn., I always cash in on the 5-cent-per-reusable-bag discount off my bill. I use about six bags per week, so it adds up to more than $15 in savings per year — not a huge amount, but I'll take it.

I hope Stop & Shop keeps its bag discount. I will bring reusable bags whether I get the discount or not, but by rewarding my environmental efforts Stop & Shop is making a statement about its values as a company and trying to instill them in shoppers.

Changing consumer values, and rewarding their good behavior, should be part of a retailer's mission. Steve Hagen, director of national procurement, for Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market, made that point at the Natural Products Expo West this month in explaining why the chain communicates to shoppers about its environmental initiatives.

“This changes the culture of your customers and the way they act,” he said, adding that shoppers are “really are the ones who can make the biggest difference.”

I like the way another, much smaller retailer approaches the bag issue. First Alternative Natural Foods Co-op, a two-store retailer in Corvallis, Ore., gives shoppers a lima bean representing each reusable bag that can be dropped into a collection tower in the store; the beans are tallied up and the sum — about $8,000 annually — is donated to local environmental groups.

The store does not offer plastic bags, and charges 5 cents for each paper bag. So most people just bring their reusable bags — it's become part of the culture.

Supervalu's banners are trying yet another approach to plastic bag reduction. According to the Wall Street Journal, the stores instruct baggers to put more products into each bag, and skip the bag for products like milk jugs that have handles, as well as forgo double bags.

Some retailers are increasing efforts to recycle plastic bags. This month, retailers in North Carolina joined a new awareness campaign, dubbed “A Bag's Life,” to help consumers identify almost 1,200 retail drop-off sites for plastic bags.

All of these steps help the environment while creating a culture that, as Hagen noted, motivates shoppers as well — and that's when real change occurs.