Sustainability is currently a buzzword. Many have the intention to do good for our environment but are deterred by the belief we must spend a significant amount of money to become sustainable. As the general manager of Kensington Community Food Co-op (KCFC), I can agree there are large, expensive steps businesses prevent taking to become sustainable. However, there are also small, budget-friendly steps that can easily be incorporated into everyday operations.
Sustainability is important for the environment and our community because it focuses on how much food, energy, and human-made resources we consume every day. As populations continue to grow, we use more and deplete the earth of its natural resources. As businesses, we can protect future generations from the effects of climate change and avoid depleting those resources through sustainable actions and goals.
One of our first sustainable goals at KCFC was to identify our primary source of waste. Like many businesses, single-use plastics are a large culprit. By incorporating bulk item refill stations, we’ve minimized waste from plastic packaging and encouraged customers to bring their own refillable containers to the store. Not only are bulk products significantly cheaper, but they also tend to encourage customers to evaluate their use of plastics. We’re moving toward a period where consumers are becoming conscious of their consumption level and actively taking steps to reduce waste. Many are willing to do their part and feel more inclined to participate when the community shares a goal to reduce plastic.
Another goal we focused on is reducing food waste by efficiently distributing food to the local community for free. Last year, we partnered with Coral Street Community Fridge, an open fridge where individuals in need are welcome to free pantry goods, produce, and snacks donated by KCFC, volunteers, and community organizations. Since March 2021, we have not thrown out a single loaf of bread. Rewarding community partnerships like this enabled us to repurpose high-quality, healthy food otherwise destined for the landfill. In order to salvage as much as possible, we also partner with organizations such as the Philly Food Rescue, Double Trellis, Too Good To Go, and various local food pantries.
The items we cannot donate are composted through our partnership with Bennett Compost. Bennett Compost is a local soil organization that picks up biodegradable items from nearly 4,000 households and businesses every week. These efforts prevent 70 tons of material from reaching landfills every month. Since October 2021, KCFC has composted about 1,475 gallons of organic waste. Switching to compost, we reduced our number of dumpster pickups and saved $194 each month. This is because such a large percentage of our trash was compostable materials. Now, we use 25% fewer trash bags. This community partnership is a win-win situation for creating nutrient-dense, local soil and disposing of trash in a sustainable way.
For local businesses, groups, or leaders seeking to further engage in our community, arrange a volunteer neighborhood cleanup with us! When businesses take the time to invest in preserving and protecting the neighborhoods they serve, it goes a long way for both people and the planet. This year, we’ve worked with sanitation industry advocate Terrill Haigler and others on several initiatives. Neighborhood cleanups are a great example of team building while giving back to our community.
As we approach Earth Day on April 22, I offer a challenge to businesses in Kensington: take on more sustainable business practices. This challenge can be intimidating, but as a sustainable business celebrating its third anniversary on Saturday, April 23, we’ve found sustainable practices are easier to implement into daily routines than one suspects. We hope by our third anniversary we’ve made a significant impact on our city, our community, and our planet.
How to take action
Below are steps Kensington businesses can take to adopt more sustainable business practices.
- Assess your business’ sources of waste.
- Know what changes are within your budget.
- Reach out to your customers and employees and ask them about their sustainability goals.
- Research and partner with local organizations. We would love to work with more neighboring businesses on this!
- Research possible grant opportunities for sustainability projects.
- Look into other eco-friendly businesses and see what they are doing.
Editors: Siani Colón, Christopher Malo, Zari Tarazona / Designer: Zari Tarazona