Green Giant

2 04 2007

Whole Foods

By Jill Ettinger

This was a record setting week for Whole Foods Market. The organic supermarket leader greets April with three exciting launches: their “Earth Month” program showcasing “30 ways in 30 days” of reducing our carbon footprint; the “Whole Trade Guarantee,” which according to Whole Foods is “a buying program that brings together a set of strict criteria for products from developing countries to ensure exceptional product quality, more money for producers, better wages and working conditions for workers, sound environmental production practices that promote biodiversity, and support of poverty eradication via donating one percent of product sales to the Whole Planet Foundation”; AND the opening of the epic store in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, on Houston & Bowery.

What is perhaps more remarkable than all three of these things happening in one week is that they are each quite revolutionary in and of themselves. Has any other grocery store proven so committed to the welfare of our planet that they’re taking “Earth Day” (April 22) and turning it into a month-long education opportunity? I guarantee you most the heads of ShopRite near my apartment have no idea what a carbon footprint is; yet several thousand Whole Foods employees, and their millions of customers, will have thirty days to understand this timely lesson.

The Whole Trade Guarantee makes me downright giddy. I spent a few days with John Mackey last fall, where he hinted to this program. It deserves serious acknowledgment. While most of us shudder at the thought of poverty and unfairly treated workers, it is still relevant to millions. And as much as I rant about global warming, it’s no surprise that there are reasons environmentally friendly sourcing practices should be employed. THIS IS HUGE. Think about Wal-Mart for a split second. (OK, that’s long enough!) They are in the business of driving quality and costs DOWN. They make laborers and suppliers compromise on a plethora of painful levels. Their credo has so profoundly impacted the world market, and so quickly, that we are just beginning to unwrap the bandages and see how bad the damage really is. For Whole Foods to take a stance like this, highlighting suppliers and brands that incorporate a triple bottom line, represents a turning of the tide. It is a damn fine day when a multi-billion dollar corporate giant stands up for the little guy, but this is more like doing cartwheels.

And of course, there’s the Bowery. Manhattan has become a stomping ground for imperial corporate corruption. There are over one hundred Starbucks on the island, and almost as many McDonald’s. So now there are four Whole Foods. And while they are technically a corporate giant, Mackey and his team are bringing the largest supermarket (71,000 square feet!) on the island to the LES, focusing on eco-friendly, green, change-making behavior that we love them for. Notoriously a seedy part of town, some locals were against the gentrification that Whole Foods brings with it. But the store is mind-blowing. I’ve seen well over a hundred of them across the country, and this place is magic. Sometimes we need that, to make the transition easier. It’s like love at first sight. Once that spark is ignited, we’ll endure long lines and higher prices just to be inside the supermarket of our dreams.

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