SALT LAKE CITY — Over the past three years, Associated Food Stores, a cooperative wholesaler based here, has on two occasions conducted an exercise whereby every department was asked to come up with an idea to make the company more “efficient, green and sustainable,” said Roger White, executive director of marketing for AFS.
“Each department was asked to make a presentation to our CEO Rich Parkinson,” White said. “We spent two days presenting our ideas.”
Out of these presentations came initiatives — such as more electronic communication to retailers, improvements in trucking efficiency and upgrades in warehouse lighting — that have made AFS a much more sustainable company.
“Rich Parkinson made sustainability one of the priorities of our organization and gave accountability to the marketing department to organize the effort,” said White.
Early in 2008, two sustainability task forces were established. The corporate sustainability task force has focused on identifying past, current and new sustainable practices for the company.
In addition, a retail sustainability task force consists of about six retailers from within AFS' 500-member retail ownership, as well as AFS staff, who work on ways to help retailers with recycling and reusable bag programs. Harmons, Salt Lake City, and Broulim's, Rexburg, Idaho, are two retailers who have participated on the task force.
For its dedication to becoming a more sustainable company, AFS has been selected to receive SN's 2009 Sustainability Excellence Award in the wholesaler category.
As a wholesaler whose trucks drive about 10 million miles annually, AFS has focused on increasing its transportation efficiencies. Notably, it has trained its drivers to reduce their idling time at delivery stops, thereby reducing average idle times to 16%, compared to the industry average of 25%-28%.
AFS has also been using biodiesel as fuel, starting with a 5% mix and eventually going to a 10% mix last year. Because of the rising cost of biodiesel, the company has returned to using a low-sulfur diesel fuel this year.
Last year, AFS completed a major lighting upgrade in its primary warehouse, located in Farr West, Utah, 45 miles from its corporate office. The wholesaler removed all 2,000 metal halide lights and replaced them with T5HO fluorescent lights.
“We eliminated 200 fixtures because the T5HO fluorescents cover a larger range of area,” said Ben Cook, marketing and communication specialist for AFS. Although the electrical consumption of the lighting system was cut by more than 50%, light levels increased by 10% to 50%. The new technology has saved AFS $283,000 in energy costs to date.
Other additions made to the warehouse included LED emergency lighting, occupancy controls and low-temperature fixtures for operation in sub-zero freezers.
Overall, the warehouse project is expected to reduce energy consumption by an estimated 4.7 million kilowatt hours per year, and has reduced the facility's peak demand by 544 kilowatts.
One of AFS' biggest moves in support of sustainability was the partnership formed last year with Rocky Mountain Recycling, also based here. RMR provides AFS member retailers in eight Western states with cardboard and plastic recycling services. RMR is also recycling materials from AFS' Farr West warehouse, cutting waste removal by an estimated 30%, and from its corporate headquarters.
As of April, RMR had recycled 938 tons of material from AFS and its retail stores, said White.
“In the past, we did recycling store by store,” White noted. “RMR allows us to unify our efforts, and the stores share in the recycling profits.” RMR also provides pick-up of recyclables for consumers in the parking lot of stores in communities that lack curbside pick-ups.
Last year, AFS launched a reusable grocery bag program called “Live Green.” To date, AFS stores have sold or given away almost 200,000 reusable bags, said White.
AFS has partnered with the mayor's office of Salt Lake City in a campaign to remind shoppers who have purchased reusable bags to bring them on shopping trips. The campaign will launch on Sept. 9.
The materials in the campaign will include refrigerator magnets for shoppers and banners and signs retailers can post in parking lots and in stores. AFS will be producing the materials and selling it to its stores as well as other retailers; AFS will also provide the artwork to retailers that want to produce the materials.
“We're happy to let our competitors have access to the artwork because the issue is bigger than any one of us,” said Cook.