Helena McShane didn’t always know that supermarket produce displays are just for show. “Not to shame other grocery stores, but I never realized that those piles of oranges are there for me to look at, not to buy,” says McShane, communications and sustainability manager with Vancouver-based online grocer SPUD.ca. “There’s so much waste in displays and what they think consumers want.”
About 2.5 billion tonnes, or 40 percent, of all food goes uneaten each year, according to the Worldwide Fund for Nature and grocery chain Tesco. Meanwhile, food waste accounts for 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Canada loses or wastes 58 percent of its food, found a study commissioned by Toronto-based charity Second Harvest.
SPUD, which claims to have the lowest food waste of any grocery retailer in Canada, has taken several steps to make waste reduction part of its business strategy. For starters, it has no food displays, and fewer hands on produce means that less gets thrown away. The company’s FoodX technology flags when a product with a short lifespan needs to go on sale. By looking at how customers fill their online shopping carts, SPUD can also forecast demand as far as two weeks in advance, McShane says. “That means we can buy just what they need.”
With help from local vendors ready to quickly meet demand, the company turns over 60 percent of its stock within 48 hours. SPUD also sells imperfect produce, which is typically rejected by grocery stores. To win over consumers, it’s created recipes for such fruits and vegetables with local nonprofit Food Stash Foundation. McShane’s Food Waste Fighters team finds a home for anything the 280-employee business can’t sell: “I have, like, six food insecurity organizations on my speed dial.”
SPUD runs a TakeBack program that collects soft plastic packaging from customers and sends it to TerraCycle, which upcycles the material into new products. The company also sells a variety of items in returnable glass containers.
By delivering its food via van in reusable plastic bins, SPUD is carpooling for groceries, McShane notes. She cites a University of Washington study showing that using a grocery delivery service instead of driving to the store can cut carbon emissions by at least half. Each day, about 40 SPUD vans deliver 1,500 to 2,000 orders, picking up empty bins as they drop off full ones. “It’s truly a circular model,” McShane says.
It’s no secret that the clothing industry is a dirty one, says Rene Gauthier. “It’s contributing about 10 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions on our planet, about 20 percent of the water pollution,” notes the co-founder and CEO of clothier Ecologyst. Overconsumption is also a major issue, Gauthier adds: “We’re now making over a 100 billion garments a year.”
Victoria-based Ecologyst, founded in 2019, is charting a more sustainable path with its manufacturer-to-consumer model. “We look to cut out as many steps as we possibly can in the process of building a garment, and look to make it as close as possible to where it’s being sold,” Gauthier explains, adding that his 40-employee company also pays a family living wage. “This model can reduce the carbon footprint up to 90 percent in the manufacturing part of the process.”
Ecologyst, whose hometown factory also serves as its warehouse, office and showroom, makes all clothing in North America. With about a third of production now taking place in Victoria, the company aims to reach 100 percent. Its garments, which use no plastic fibres, aren’t cheap, but Ecologyst promises to repair all products for life.
In another bid to reduce clothing waste, the business recently soft-launched Second Life, which lets customers sell used items via its website. Asked what’s next, Gauthier says Ecologyst plans to open manufacturer-to-consumer hubs in other North American cities. “We’ve built one of them so far, and we’re looking to scale up.”
Minto Roy and Lee Gieschen started Social Print Paper a decade ago with a bold mission: to create a world that never uses trees to make paper. The pair set out to create an eco-friendly product, but they had broader ambitions, Roy explains. “Our first goal was, we need to make a paper that looks, feels and performs to the same standard as traditional wood-fibre paper.”
Roy and Gieschen decided to make their paper out of bagasse, the waste fibre from sugar cane. Sugar Sheet copy paper reduces agricultural fibre waste in landfills, combats deforestation, reduces greenhouse gas emissions and is recyclable and compostable. Two boxes save one tree and 68 kilograms of carbon dioxide, according to a 2018 assessment by ESG research firm S&P Global Trucost.
Social Print worked with big companies like Canon, Hewlett Packard and Xerox to review paper quality and performance. It then struck deals with office supplies giants such as Grand & Toy, Hamster/Novexco and Staples Advantage, plus regional distributors nationwide.
Besides London Drugs, which sells Sugar Sheet paper at all of its stores, local organizations that have made the switch include Telus Corp., TransLink and UBC. Every year, Social Print sends those clients eco-savings reports, Roy says. “They can offset their carbon tax payable, which is a real, tangible value beyond just sustainable value.”
Hemlock, whose sustainability committee leads a waste reduction strategy focused on educating and motivating employees, aims to become a certified Zero Waste organization by 2030. The Burnaby-headquartered company’s Climate Commitments align with five of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, including affordable, clean energy and responsible consumption and production.
Hemlock belongs to environmental nonprofit Canopy’s Pack4Good initiative, whose participating companies have committed that by the end of 2022, their paper-based packaging won’t contain any fibre from ancient and endangered forests. Through its Zero program, the company lets clients make their print jobs carbon-neutral by paying a small fee that supports offset purchases for forest conservation.
The Richmond-based coffee roaster’s sustainability efforts include diverting all of its waste away from landfills, through composting, recycling and finding ways to generate less waste. A certified B Corporation, Salt Spring follows a responsible purchasing policy to ensure that its suppliers and the products it sources are environmentally sustainable.
The company, which gets most of its energy from renewables, has pledged to shrink the natural gas it needs for roasting by 20 percent as of 2023. Salt Spring is also helping its coffee producers to adopt regenerative organic agriculture, which has a relatively small environmental footprint.