On Friday, January 17, Governor Brown formally declared what all of us in Chico already knew: California is in a drought. Snow hasn’t been falling and rain hasn’t been raining. Rivers are running low. The governor has called on residents and businesses to reduce water consumption by 20% in order to get through what is shaping up to be the driest year in California’s history. Fortunately, CNFC has made water efficiency a central focus of our sustainability efforts for the past two years.
In 2011, we hired our very first Sustainability Coordinator. Having a staffer dedicated entirely to measuring and improving our environmental impact has had a profound impact on how we do business. The first Sustainability Coordinator, Lauren Kennedy, was hired from within our very own Produce department. Her intimate familiarity with the process by which crops go from farm to shopping cart allowed us to make major improvements in water use.
Lauren first turned her attention to the produce sink, where our staff washes and inspects every fruit and vegetable before releasing it to the public. She analyzed the amount of water used per day, and determined that we were over-filling the sink. The collaboration between Sustainability and Produce resulted in new guidelines that maintained our strict standards for cleanliness while vastly reducing the amount of water used in the process. The combination of new washing guidelines with the purchase of a new, more efficient produce case resulted in the Co-op reducing the amount of water used in 2012 by 40%!
We’ve continued that pattern of analysis and action in the intervening year. Most recently, our current Sustainability and Facilities team turned their keen eyes onto the store’s cleaning procedures. Our Utility and Maintenance Clerk, Peter Ratner, measured the flow strength of the store’s hoses, and the time taken in our cleaning procedures. Peter used that data to devise quicker, more efficient methods of cleaning the store’s exterior. When combined with other water-saving techniques (for example, the installation of dual-flush toilets) CNFC was able to reduce water usage by another 15% in 2013.
The cumulative effect of all our efforts is staggering. Since first hiring a Sustainability Coordinator, the Chico Natural Foods Cooperative has reduced its water usage to 51% of its 2010 levels. We here at the Co-op aren’t the kind to rest on our extra-dry laurels. The upcoming remodel will allow us to upgrade nearly every piece of equipment in the store to higher-performing, more efficient models. In September of 2013, we combined our Facilities and Sustainability departments together, guaranteeing that every aspect of our building’s operation is held to the highest standards.
Water is one of the most important substances on Earth. All of us here at the Co-op take the responsibility of being conscious, careful stewards of our aquatic resources seriously, and we are immensely proud of all we’ve accomplished in just a couple short years. No matter what the weather may hold for us in the future, we are committed to operating in the most rational, efficient, and sustainable way possible.
And keep an eye out for 2013’s Sustainability report in Spring 2014.