Calling for an Environment Committee at Honest Weight Food Co-op

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We live in the Anthropocene, the recently-named geological period in which human activity is altering the earth. We’ve disrupted the carbon cycle by burning fossil fuel and destroying organic matter in the soil; as a result, the climate is going haywire.

The list of modern environmental disasters is mounting. Year after year, for the last 25 years or so, the Earth has been experiencing the hottest temperatures on record. Glaciers from the Himalayas to the Andes are disappearing at an ever-faster rate, threatening fresh water supplies and rain patterns that millions of people and their crops rely upon. Warming oceans are killing coral and wiping out critical fish habitats. The polar ice cap is melting. So are vast expanses of permafrost, releasing huge stores of methane, a greenhouse gas much more potent than carbon dioxide.

Elephants, rhinos, big cats and so many other species, large and small, are vanishing so rapidly in the face of these environmental changes that we’re said to be in the Sixth Extinction.

Nevertheless, governments keep approving fossil fuel pipelines, from Dakota Access to Keystone XL, to fracked gas pipelines proposed to run right through Albany. From Boston to D.C. to North Dakota to Seattle, people resist, most notably at Standing Rock, where Native Americans and other water protectors have been brutalized.

Toxins are ubiquitous in our living systems and our bodies. The Fukushima nuclear reactors in Japan continue to release extremely hazardous levels of radiation into the Pacific Ocean. One report predicts there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050. Every human being on the planet carries man-made toxins in their fat tissue and most likely also in their blood. Some of these chemicals disrupt our hormonal system or increase the risk of birth defects, learning problems, or cancer. The situation is so dire that I could go on for hours with facts and figures like these.

Environmental Actions We Can All Take

Since the inauguration of Donald Trump, I’m finding new opportunities to amplify my voice on these issues, dear to my heart. We can do many things to make our concerns known: join a grassroots group; call, write or meet with elected officials; write letters to the editors of newspapers; use social media to inform friends and family about issues; dialogue with your friends and neighbors; engage and educate; hold forums; show films; mobilize others; act strategically; go to lectures, marches and rallies. Get creative with your activism, and practice civil disobedience to call attention to the environmental disasters we face.

While I believe these types of involvement are absolutely essential, it’s also true that our cooperative business offers another avenue for action. As a people’s institution, Honest Weight has the enviable opportunity to become a real-life model for environmental sustainability. I believe our power at the Co-op lies in demonstrating that another world is possible.

Honest Weight embraces the concept of triple bottom-line—people, profit and planet. In terms of food and other products, we excel at the planet part of our goal, and the Nutrition and Education Committee (NEC) has been instrumental in making sure that we do. But there are other aspects of environmental sustainability that we could and should be paying more attention to at an institutional level. Toward that end, I propose that the Co-op establish an Environment Committee.

Envisioning an Honest Weight Environment Committee

This committee’s portfolio would include any and all environmental sustainability and environmental health issues relevant to Honest Weight that do not directly pertain to food and other products, the purview of the Nutrition Education Committee (NEC). The committee would be the place to consider what else the Co-op should be doing, in areas such as:

  • Energy (energy efficiency, energy generation, and transportation)
  • Waste (waste reduction, recycling, composting, as well as packaging used in-house and by vendors)
  • Non-Toxic Facilities Management (least toxic solutions for in-house cleaning, pest management, building materials, paint, other supplies used at Honest Weight.
  • Water Conservation
  • Climate Change (adaption and mitigation)
  • Sustainability Education

Does Honest Weight have written policies or goals for each of these areas? My guess is it does not. (And, if it does, how would a member-owner go about getting a copy of them?) While managers have financial goals for their departments, has the store established any environmental benchmarks? Without monitoring these areas, how can we know how well the store is performing? In fields like energy efficiency and solar energy that are so rapidly advancing, there’s doubtless more to be done, whether now or in the near future. Is there someone advising the Co-op on these and other opportunities? If not, how can a Co-op Environment Committee make sure there is?

I imagine the proposed committee being made up of people with strong values and relevant expertise, whether from their work, studies, or personal interest. The committee would serve as a forum where shareholders offer their specialized knowledge to support Honest Weight’s mission and objectives with respect to environmental issues.

The committee could start by gathering information about what Honest Weight has done in the past and is currently doing towards reaching sustainability objectives, such as energy efficiency, waste reduction, or avoidance of toxins. It could identify the bright spots and challenges, and seek out solutions.

To preserve our institutional memory and build on successes, why not create a repository of information about what has been tried, what’s being done, and what has been considered and rejected?

Sustainability values have been integral to many aspects of store operations and facilities, going back to the current building’s design and construction. Honest Weight does many things well in the environment realm, yet how often do we hear about them? Unlike the products that we sell, physical plant matters and operations tend to be hidden from view. The Environment Committee could raise the profile of these efforts.

The committee would also have the ability to look elsewhere for successes that the Co-op might want to emulate. Its members would possess the knowledge to do the research and present the findings to Management and the Board. If the need arises, perhaps it could even create in-service training modules for managers or other employees.

Tens of thousands of community members interact with Honest Weight on a regular basis, so we have an amazing opportunity to inform and influence large numbers of people. The committee could work with the Education Coordinator to tell the story of Honest Weight’s environmental achievements and why they matter.

Another task for the Environment Committee might be to compile the Co-op’s environmental initiatives, policies, and practices in a binder or do so electronically, making our progress transparent. This sort of clearinghouse would give the Co-op community a resource to help improve the environmental protocols at their schools, workplaces, public buildings, and apartment complexes, and maybe even their homes.

Calling All Interested Parties: Help Us Build an Environment Committee

Consider these ideas for a new committee as a starting point. You may have more ideas to add. If so, please add your voice to the discussion!

I wrote this article at the recommendation of Board member Saul Rigberg, who suggested I use it to start recruiting interested people. The Board is very open to hearing about ideas from the Membership. The process for doing that is outlined in the NEC’s survey/article in this month’s Co-op Voice. Now we just need to assemble a group to organize our passions into a proposal to present to the Board.

Readers who have backgrounds relevant to an Environment Committee at Honest Weight, this is your invitation to help begin the process of forming one! Please contact me at: tracy.frisch AT gmail.com or 518/692-8242.

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Tracy Frisch has been an Honest Weight shareholder since 1989. She has a long history of involvement in environmental issues, from recycling to pesticides to sustainable agriculture. A freelance journalist, she writes for Acres USA, The Sun magazine, and Hill Country Observer. She homesteads in Argyle, NY, 43 miles north of Albany.