2018 Climate Awards Offer a Glimpse of the Future of Food

By: Co+op
Community Food Co-op in Bellingham, Washington.

Did you know that in northern California, there is a dairy farm powered by cow manure? Not just the farm, the farmer’s electric truck too—with energy to spare for their neighbors to use. Meanwhile, there’s a beverage company that sells drinks so environmentally sound, they reduce your carbon footprint when you drink them. If you have ever wondered what the future of food looks like, these companies, and six others with stories just as intriguing, offer a glimpse.

Food—how it is grown, produced, transported, used and thrown away—has a huge impact on our climate. Because good, sustainable food is our bread and butter (so to speak), food co-ops are working together on a national level to organize and influence the natural products industry to prioritize climate action.

As a pioneering supporter and participant in the Climate Collaborative, National Co+op Grocers (a national co-op owned by food co-ops) underwrites annual awards to identify and highlight inspiring stories of people taking bold, meaningful action within our food system to slow climate change. Check out this year’s National Co+op Grocers Climate Collaborative award winners, selected from a pool of companies, co-ops and individuals nominated by their peers for innovation and excellence in climate leadership.

Outstanding Company Awards

Alter Eco: Breathing New Life into the Supply Chain

Alter Eco logoIt takes a lot of energy and cacao to produce salted almond, coconut toffee and brown butter dark chocolate bars and a whole line of melt-in-your-mouth truffles, and Alter Eco has raised the bar (pun intended!) for the way chocolate is sourced, grown, produced and sold. Going beyond fair trade, they work with the farmers who grow ingredients for their products to plant trees that absorb the carbon dioxide their business operations produce each year. This practice also has a regenerative effect on the farmland, reducing the need for clearcutting of old growth rainforest, protecting over 3 million trees since 2008.

“Contrary to offsetting, which entails compensating for carbon in unrelated areas, we incorporate environmental impact into the commercial dynamics (supply chain) of our company.” Their website explains. It’s called carbon insetting and their founder built a model so other companies can do it, too.

Community Food Co-op: Your EnergyStar Certified® Grocery Store

If you live in Bellingham, Washington, you’re lucky. Voted Best Grocery Story in Bellingham three years running, Community Food Co-op serves up mouthwatering pastries, righteous espresso drinks and a full line of organic, natural and local foods—with minimal environmental impact. Offsetting 102% of their electricity use with their own 126 solar panel array and renewable energy certificates, diverting 90% of their waste from the landfill and investing in efficient lighting and refrigeration systems has earned their co-op the only 2017 EPA EnergyStar Certificate issued to a grocery store west of the Rockies and puts them among the top 30 retailers in the country in utilization of renewable energy. If that weren’t enough, they also invest profits back into their community in many ways, including an innovative farm fund supporting local sustainable farming projects.

Organic Valley Cooperative: Opening the Door for a Solar-Powered Wisconsin

Organic Valley has many accomplishments—recently they won the war on butter and successfully took on the New York City coffee scene. They call themselves the “food company crazy enough to change everything,” and we believe them. Committing to 100% renewable power by 2019, they have partnered with renewable energy utility companies to bring massive investments in solar energy farms to Wisconsin, where Organic Valley is headquartered. Not only will this make them the largest food company in the world to source all of its electricity from renewable sources, it will increase solar energy use in the state of Wisconsin by 15%, opening the door to further solar development. Next up: carbon neutrality by 2022. And you thought butter couldn’t get better!

Veritable Vegetable: Exemplary Members of the Clean Plate Club

The farm-to-table movement has been gaining momentum for years now, but little focus has been put on the “to” part of that phrase. It is a well-kept secret that in that tiny preposition lies an enormous potential for food waste. In fact, from farm to fork and beyond, discarded food in the U.S. is the single biggest component of landfills and incinerators according to the EPA. Enter Veritable Vegetable, an organic produce distributor in the San Francisco area, bringing food from farms to tables since the 1970s. This sustainably-minded distributor diverts an unbelievable 99% of food waste from the landfill and their hybrid delivery fleet has helped them achieve a 10.7% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions per mile since 2011. Clean food distribution is the future of farm-to-table.

Outstanding Supply Chain Engagement Awards

Guayaki – Stimulating Beverages, Serious Rainforest Refreshment

Remember that beverage we mentioned that reduces your carbon footprint? Guayaki has been carbon-positive (sequestering more carbon than they emit) for 22 years. This means that just by choosing to drink Guayaki’s yerba mate (say yer-bah mah-tay), either brewed hot like tea or in one of their fruity, lightly sweetened sparkling drinks, you are doing something good for the environment. Thanks to this remarkable, regenerative supply chain, Guayaki has restored 130,200 acres of rainforest (and counting) and created 885 living wage jobs for over 300 families in South America. Fair for Life Certified and a member of the Fair Trade Federation, Guayaki pays more than twice the world market price for yerba mate and provides ongoing training and education to develop their workforce. Their Guayaki Foundation offers no interest loans in Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil to develop and promote regeneration of ecosystems, vibrant communities and food security. Now that’s refreshing!

Lotus Foods – Showing Us How to Do the Rice Thing

Lotus Foods knows it’s time to get real about rice; rice provides half the world’s population with a majority of their daily calories and is the main source of livelihood for over 2 billion people in low-income countries. It’s also incredibly versatile—Lotus offers dozens of delicious options from Jade Pearl to Madagascar Pink to jet black forbidden rice. Unfortunately, rice production takes a toll on the environment and specifically the climate—flooded rice fields contribute to global warming by emitting methane gas, approximately 30 times more potent as a heat trapping gas than carbon dioxide. A growing process called System of Rice Intensification (SRI) improves yields for low-income farmers without requiring specialized seeds, chemicals or inputs. Lotus sources 400 tons of SRI rice each year, and their Do the Rice Thing campaign helps to educate people about the importance of supporting ecological rice production.

Outstanding Influencer Awards

Albert Straus - Redefining Waste as Power

As anyone familiar with superhero stories knows, the ability to transform one’s weakness into their strength is essential to success. This is one way to look at Albert Straus, a second generation dairy farmer in northern California—who has taken one of the most environmentally destructive aspects of dairy farming, cow manure, and turned it into renewable energy to run everything on his farm, right down to the country’s first electric truck to be powered by manure. Who knew something so stinky could produce something as incredibly sweet as Straus Creamery ice cream? With a long term, replicable vision for a carbon-positive organic dairy farm, Albert Straus is influencing the natural products industry to turn their liabilities into their strengths and continue to push the boundaries of what is possible.

Clif Bar Inc. - Endowing the Future of Organic

Is it safe to say everybody knows Clif? Whether on the trail, in the gym or as your on-the-go regular breakfast, tasty Clif bars have become part of our diet—can you even remember life before energy bars? It turns out that being a pioneer is in Clif Bar Inc.’s DNA. Their commitment to reducing their environmental footprint is extensive, if it can be improved, they’re on it. They provide their supply chain partners with free consultants to help procure renewable energy, they are transitioning their distribution system from truck to rail, reducing 1 million pounds of carbon dioxide production per year. Perhaps most inspiring, Clif is influencing the future of food in the U.S. by endowing five university chairs in organic research to ensure that organic agriculture continues to amass scientific data in support of its potential as a global solution to mitigating climate change and providing sustainable food for all.

About the Awards

National Co+op Grocers Climate Collaborative Awards seek to broadcast and promote stories of companies and individuals taking bold action within our food system to help slow, or even reverse, climate change. The awards acknowledge that sharing innovative solutions and rewarding leadership can inspire others to make positive changes. National Co+op Grocers (the co-op behind this website) and the Climate Collaborative hope that you will be as inspired by these stories as we are!