Robin Deliso is an associate director in APCO’s corporate responsibility practice.
A recent Atlantic article talked about Trader Joe’s stores increasing their green behavior and committing to put more sustainable items on their shelves. The article notes that this journey started as a defensive move to get Greenpeace to quiet down, but it appears the food retailer has seen the light and is becoming more proactive.
Articles like this can’t help but make someone like me ask even more questions of the now-German-owned company since they only present the tip of the iceberg: What exactly does “sustainable” mean to you? Are you addressing packaging issues? Are you focused on certain key ingredients like palm oil, or is this about organics, local, or other criteria? What’s your roadmap? Are you saving – or making – money through these changes? The goal is not to stop Trader Joe’s in its tracks before leaving the gate, but it’s important to be thoughtful about the objective when building a company’s CR infrastructure, and this article seems to beget far more questions than answers.
It will be interesting to see how far Trader Joe’s goes on its sustainability journey – and how much the company chooses to communicate related initiatives to customers. The Unilever model, for example, recognizes that the company is further along than many of its customers in sustainability interest, but they communicate aggressively about it anyway. Walmart* is also getting customers more directly into the conversation through channels like Facebook and their Green Room sustainability blog.
While Trader Joe’s has a long way to go compared to Unilever, Walmart and others, it’s still good to see them inching their way toward what will hopefully be a future position in the marketplace as a CR leader.