New Seasons grows business while stamping out waste

Is it possible for a business to see substantial growth and also reduce its waste to almost nothing? Community Environmental Services at Portland State says it is, and New Seasons Market is doing it.

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Is it possible for a business to see substantial growth and also reduce its waste to almost nothing? Community Environmental Services at Portland State says it is, and New Seasons Market is doing it.

After an objective operational audit, CES determined the local grocer meets the Zero Waste International Alliance’s standard for zero waste through an impressively efficient use of resources.

“We found that 92 percent of the materials flowing in and out of New Seasons are being diverted, recycled, reused or repurposed,” said Eric Crum, the director of CES since 2012. “In other words, they’re keeping material out of landfills.”

CES is a research and service unit focusing on local recycling campaigns and waste assessment projects. It is staffed by undergraduate and graduate students coming directly from PSU from many different academic fields and is part of the Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning. Current projects include maintaining the City of Portland’s event recycling program.

“We’ve been involved in a lot of innovative initiatives around waste and recycling for almost a quarter-century,” Crum said. “It’s nice to be involved with New Seasons, and nice that they want to talk about our partnership.”

Minimizing waste has been New Seasons’ focus as well. Since its inception in the late ’90s, reducing, reusing and recycling practices have been engrained in the culture for its approximately 12 stores and 2,400 employees.

“We have a very deep commitment to being a steward of natural resources, and it’s always been a part of the mission,” said Wendy Collie, the CEO and president of New Seasons.

“As a community member and a business leader, I think we all have a part to play in making a difference for our people and our planet, and doing it in a profitable way.”

Collie explained that the company began to expand their efforts in 2007 and developed system-wide approaches for reducing waste and increasing efficiency.

One initiative involves placing trained personnel, called Green Teams, at each store to coach employees and customers on effective recycling practices.

“When you look at the grocery industry, you really have a complex environment that you have to manage. You need to give your team the time to make an impact, and it has to be part of the operations,” Collie said.

“We were seeing such significant improvements in our waste stream, as well as our operational efficiency, that we wanted to get a third-party validation.”

With a relationship already established between PSU students and New Seasons, enlisting CES to measure the operation’s effectiveness was a logical choice.

“We enjoy our partnership with Portland State. We’ve worked with many capstone students who helped us address business challenges and do research,” Collie said.

Crum sees the relationship with New Seasons as being beneficial for the environment as well as for his research unit. He hopes that partnering with the grocer will help bring CES to the public eye.

“When we talk about letting knowledge serve the city—that’s exactly what CES does, and we’ve been doing it for a long time. It’s nice to get our story out there,” Crum said.

Collie explained that being validated as a zero-waste company is a great way for New Seasons to be recognized for their hard work, and said that they will continue that dedication to the environment going forward.

Three new stores are opening in the near future, and each location will employ innovative practices for reusing energy and eliminating waste.

“We look for ways to share these philosophies in the construction environment as well,” she said.

Although implementing environmentally conscious initiatives doesn’t always come cheap, Collie sees the expense as an investment in people and space, and a win-win for the company as well as the region. She pointed out the cost savings the company sees from hauling less trash to landfills.

“At the end of the day, we’re operating in a more efficient manner, so it doesn’t add expense to the store,” Collie said.

“I hope we set an example,” she added. “I think we not only have a responsibility to ourselves, but also a duty to educate people and encourage them to come along with us.”