CINCINNATI — At Kroger Co., community involvement has a long history.
The man who founded the company 125 years ago, Barney H. Kroger, worked closely with a school for the deaf here, and since that time Kroger has adopted a wide range of community-service initiatives, including support of health- and hunger-related causes as well as local nonprofit groups.
The efforts are part of what Kroger refers to as “social sustainability,” which falls under the broader umbrella of overall sustainability initiatives at the company.
“There is in our mind a great link between social sustainability — helping communities remain great places — and what we do as a company,” said Lynn Marmer, Kroger's group vice president for corporate affairs.
The company has been involved in hunger relief for almost 28 years, she said, and has been named Retailer of the Year by America's Second Harvest in five of the last seven years.
This year, Kroger is expanding its donation of perishables to local food banks. After piloting such a program in about 300 stores, Kroger is now extending it to 2,000 locations.
Kroger also partners with its vendors for a fund-raising program called “Bring Hope to the Table,” which donates about $3 million in food per year to local food banks and raises another $1 million per year in cash donations.
The efforts are part of an estimated $150 million in donations that Kroger contributed to community causes in 2007, Marmer said.
Another of Kroger's community initiatives involves its support of the Race for the Cure and the Susan G. Komen Foundation, which raise money for breast cancer research and related activities. “One of the things we like about Susan G. Komen is that the money comes back to provide support and education for local women in the community,” said Marmer.
About 20% of Kroger's annual donations, or $30 million, go to local nonprofits like Scout troops through the company's Community Rewards Program.
Regarding environmental sustainability, Kroger has focused much of its effort around energy reduction. Since the year 2000, Kroger has cut electricity use by almost 23%, according to Marmer. That's the equivalent of taking 4.5 million cars off the road in terms of reduced carbon-dioxide emissions, she said.
Tactics range from using energy-efficient equipment and more skylighting to such simple things as using energy-efficient light bulbs, turning lights off and keeping doors closed.
“It takes the engagement of our people to make this happen,” Marmer said. “We provide them with a tool kit and with leadership opportunities, and we've seen them absolutely perform.”
The company also offers plastic-bag recycling at all of its stores and also sells reusable bags as part of an effort to cut down on the estimated 400 plastic bags per year that are used by the typical household. The company also uses the plastic-bag recycling bins to recycle some of the plastic packaging material it generates in its stores.