by Jan Rasikas, General Manager
This is a big question. We live in a community where alternative building materials and solar power are used by many of our friends and neighbors. And used very successfully, I might add. Excessive use of natural resources and changing lifestyles demand that we find ways to reduce our impact on the environment. The members of the Co-op have made their voices heard on this subject through the Long Range Planning Committee Report, surveys, General Membership Meetings, the Stake-holders Meeting, Board and Staff meetings and countless one-on-one encounters with each other. Because our business supports the health and well-being of our members and community, it made sense for us to incorporate into our new building as many environmentally sound choices as our resources would allow.
Building a frame structure was high on the wish list. We wanted a building with architectural style and warmth. A building that our membership and community would be proud to have on Main Street for many years to come. This was not an inexpensive decision, but one that is fundamental to our identity. Many grocery stores our size are housed in flat roofed, metal structures, leaving more funds for copious amounts of specialty equipment and refrigeration required in a grocery setting. We could not picture ourselves being comfortable in such a building. This may sound like mere aesthetics, but a pleasing structure can feed our souls like organic and natural food feeds our health and well being.
Creating an inviting green space around our building was high on the priority list. Parking is of the utmost importance for the Co-op, but we didn’t want to surround the store with a sea of asphalt. Outdoor seating space, gardens and trees show hospitality and help to create the community center we desire. Concrete Fiber board is used for the outdoor siding, holding the painted surface for 15 to 20 years. We chose colors for the outside from the historic palette (even though we don’t have a historic building) to better fit on our historic Main Street.
The floor at the new Co-op is an exciting example of an environmentally sound option. Polishing and coloring the concrete, that we had to pour anyway, was one way to make better use of the materials that were unavoidable. Without chemicals, our concrete floor will get a lasting shine that only needs mopping with the soap of our choice. Although it cost us more up front, it will save us thousands of dollars per year on waxing, buffing, chemical cleaning supplies and labor to maintain a vinyl floor. Just think of the adhesives we’ve avoided by not laying a vinyl floor! In our offices we’ve chosen recycled tire flooring.
A well lit space and a lot of natural light is another high priority for Co-op shoppers and workers alike. Our Co-op has a window shining natural light into every work space in the building – every office, the break room, the deli kitchen, the produce prep area and the delivery area in the backroom. Of course, the retail floor is flooded by the dormer windows on the roof and the bank of large windows in the front. T-8 lights overhead run efficiently and increase the savings on our utility bill, but cost more initially.
We were especially excited to use insulation made from scrap blue jean material, eliminating the formaldehyde used in most fiber glass insulation. No VOC paints from Safecoat kept the indoor air quality healthy as well. Thanks to our local Home Green Home store, we were able to purchase these products right here in Viroqua!
One of our biggest green choices had the greatest impact on our equipment budget and our long term utility usage. The refrigeration system we chose reduces the impact on the environment by using a new type of refrigerant, that most stores will have to convert to in the future to meet new environmental requirements. Along with this new refrigerant, we chose new Tyler High Performance cases that have the highest energy efficiency ratio in the industry. After a return on our investment (of only 6 months) we gain a savings of 21% annually. Tyler cases meet the new and future Food Safety Standards. We put a lot of effort into carrying the freshest, high quality food available for our members and shoppers. It’s important to put our resources toward safe, efficient storage and display of our food.
There are many smaller choices that add up to energy efficiency and our commitment to environmentally sound business practices. Our kitchen waste gets composted and picked up by local farmers feeding pigs and chickens. We have an extensive in store recycling program and use recycled paper in our offices and printed materials. The Co-op tee shirts are made from organic cotton. We encourage shoppers to use cloth bags instead of paper or plastic and to shop in the bulk department with their own reused containers.
We are constantly working toward making the new Co-op an outstanding place to work and shop. One way to do this is to keep steady attention on our environmental footprint and always look for ways to improve.