Magnolia Thriftway going green

The Magnolia Thriftway and its sister market, the Ballinger Thriftway, are the first mainstream groceries in the Puget Sound region to do their part to reduce global warming, according to Jeff Taylor.

Taylor, director of operations for the Thriftways' parent company, Penhollow Markets, said the stores are doing that by reducing their carbon footprint to zero.

Carbon dioxide is largely responsible for the greenhouse effect that is warming the planet at an alarming rate, according to many scientists. So reducing the amount of carbon a business produces is critical, Taylor said.

However, they first had to determine how much carbon the Thriftway produces a year, he said of a process that involved an initial visit by NetGreen executive director Linda VerNooy. "I went to see Jeff based on a referral," she said.

The nonprofit company brought in a paid consultant to do the calculations based on the amount of garbage produced, natural gas and electrical use and the miles driven by company trucks, Taylor said.

The solution was twofold. "To become carbon-neutral we had to reduce our waste," he said of one step. The effort began in April this year and involved composting cuttings from produce, flower trimmings, waxed cardboard food containers and, ultimately, food scraps.

"We're still sorting out the process for food scraps," said Taylor. The store might not compost food scraps during the summer because the results can get kind of ripe, he added.

The compost is picked up twice a week, and although the store has to pay for the service, it's 30 percent less costly than garbage pickup, according to Taylor. Furthermore, the store just started recycling its cooking oil, which will be made into biodiesel fuel, he said.

A second step saw the store purchase a few thousand dollars' worth of renewable-energy (or carbon-offset) credits to help finance wind farms, Taylor said.

The Thriftway is also selling customers $12 greeting cards that do the same thing. "The average residence in Seattle produces about one ton of carbon a month," he said, adding that the $12 card will offset that amount of carbon.

It was a natural move for Thriftway customers, who make the sale of organic produce a big part of the store's business, according to Taylor. The green-buying attitude led to the sale of carbon-offset credits because it allowed customers to take the same stand as the grocery, he said.

NetGreen encourages businesses, individuals and community groups to go green by buying the carbon-offset credits, executive director VerNooy said. Individuals can determine their carbon footprint by logging on to the company's Web site at, she said.

And unlike Thriftway, which paid for a NetGreen consultant, small mom-and-pop businesses can get a break. "If they call me, I'll calculate their carbon footprint for free," VerNooy said.

Both the Magnolia and the Ballinger Thriftways also gave away between 500 and 700 free tree saplings around Earth Day as a way to help reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, said Taylor.

Environmental good deeds aside, there's a bottom-line reason for going green, he said. "I've been surprised; it makes sense economically."

That's important for grocery stores because they operate on extremely small profit margins, Taylor noted. "I challenge my counterparts to do more like that."

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