What is in this article?:
Additional Sustainability Awards coverage:
Unified Grocers has made sustainability improvements in warehouse lighting and forklifts.
About three years ago, Al Plamann, chief executive officer of Unified Grocers, was in the cafeteria at the member-owned wholesale cooperative’s Los Angeles headquarters when he noticed two women bringing their own plastic dishes up to be served.
“They asked the lady who runs the cafeteria to put the special of the day on their plastic plates,” he said. I asked them about it and they said, ‘We just think it’s better to do that.’”
Plamann (left) has since adopted the mindset manifested by those employees in bringing a range of sustainability innovations to the wholesaler. “It started as a mindset among employees, at a lot of different levels, who felt this was an important thing to do,” he said. “It wasn’t a top-down, ‘This is what we should do’ decision. It was a question of recognizing that the mindset, the culture, dictated that we commit to this.”
Unified, which did $3.8 billion in sales last year, began to look at sustainability in two ways. One is internally focused on the company and capitalizes on what employees want. For example, Unified has developed an internal website called “Green 365,” which allows employees to make comments and offer ideas, tips and activities.
Unified also looks externally on ways it can influence its vendors and retailers. Unified’s procurement staff, for example, encourages vendors to support sustainable agriculture programs and selects “preferential suppliers” for sustainable seafood and other products.
For this comprehensive approach to sustainability, Unified Grocers was selected as winner of SN’s 2012 Sustainability Excellence Award in the wholesaler category.