Business sustainability in Vancouver, North Vancouver, and the Lower Mainland

// Heather Welsh

Many businesses today are making claims of sustainability, advertising that they are working in the greenest, most natural, and most eco-friendly ways possible. They are advertising to a newly recognized market: those interested in the sustainable production of food, clothes, and pretty much any product. With so many of the big chain stores selling low-priced goods and producing mass amounts of waste in doing so, shoppers are looking for a greener alternative, and rightly so. But how can one be sure that the “sustainability” promises being stamped onto products made are true?

Greens Market – Kitsilano

Greens Organic and Natural Market is a fairly new grocery store, founded by two UBC graduates in 2010. The website quotes that they are “passionate stainable, healthy and fun lifestyle,” and goes on to explain their vision of creating “a community-oriented grocery store committed to zero-waste,
buying local where possible, and offering the freshest, tastiest organic and natural foods.”

Located on Broadway and Maple, Greens is in Kitsilano, close to South Granville. This area of the city is largely middle-class, a seemingly perfect spot for a business whose costs may have to be higher in order to remain environmentally conscious. It is clear that they do not offer bargain goods or crazy deals; their target buyer is some- body interested in buying organic and local groceries, thus perhaps more willing to compromise economically.

Greens’ store manager Michael West assures that during high season (summer), the store stocks between 80 to 90% of locally-sourced fruits and vegetables, adding that 100 per cent of Greens' produce is organic, and the meat and sea- food section is 100% locally-sourced year-round. West could not estimate the percentage of their health and wellness products that are sourced locally, but did indicate that they deal with “dozens of small local suppliers who sometimes only provide us with one particular product.” The deli, “Beens” is located within the market and sources all of its products from the produce, meat, and seafood departments.

Greens’ deals with a number of different farms, as each farm tends to focus on one particular crop. “Two of our main farms … are in Surrey, and [we also source from] UBC Farm just up the road,” explains West. Other farms provide more specific crops: “[A farm in] the Fraser Valley provides our heirloom tomatoes, Skipping Red Rooster in Vancouver provides our garlic and watercress, and Green Acres Organic Orchards in Kelowna provides our apples.”

Greens' paper and cardboard recycling are done with a company called BFI, the third-largest non-hazardous solid waste management company in North America. Greens’ hard and soft plastic, glass, metal, and compost are done through a company called The Recycling Alternative, based in Vancouver. Shoppers are also able to bring in their own personal compost to the store.

Greens’ uses non-heated air hand dryers in the customer and staff washrooms, and reusable cloth from roller dispensers at their hand wash stations. “Our dishwasher is a low temp model that uses significantly less energy than a conventional one,” adds West.

Greens’ also uses environmentally friendly cleaning products, biodegradable garbage bags, produce and bulk bags. West adds that in the meat and seafood section, “we want to introduce bio- degradable trays and soakers [pads that absorb moisture used under product] over the next six to eight weeks.” They are also looking into adding more of these items in the deli, where they also use biodegradable take-out cutlery, coffee cups, and soup containers.

Quest Food Exchange - Lower Mainland

Quest Food Exchange is British Columbia's largest food exchange program assisting low-income individuals and families in the Lower Mainland. Quest assists with meal planning, budgeting, and job development skills, and is partnered with hundreds of social service agencies to help transition their clients from relying on food banks, to becoming self-reliant.

Their website explains, “By rescuing food, Quest is not just feeding people; in reducing waste, we are doing our part to help the environment. Methane gas produced by decomposing food scraps in local landfills contributes significantly to global warming.” In rescuing food that would otherwise go to waste, Quest Food Exchange is helping other businesses become more sustainable whilst dealing with the resources they have and use in a sustainable manner.

Lauren McGuire-Wood, Quest’s Community Relations Coordinator states that Quest's “main objective is the reduction of hunger and poverty in the Lower Mainland, and in effect, we are also reducing the amount of food waste that reaches the landfill.” According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, a survey done in 2011 showed that almost 50 per cent of the food produced in North America goes to waste. McGuire- Wood explain, “This happens at every step of the food-supply chain, and we work with various organizations at each level to prevent this from happening. There is more than enough food being produced to feed everyone, but the distribution method is faulty.”

“We work with our partners to schedule pick- ups and deliveries; we do so in a manner which is most efficient for our drivers, thus saving on fuel costs. Any food we receive by donation that is unusable will be composted and its packaging recycled; this is part of the Zero Waste policy we have at Quest,” says McGuire-Wood.

In 2005, Quest collaborated with EcoAction Canada, a government-funded project which helps to reduce greenhouse emissions and waste by composting and recycling. Through the Zero Waste Project, EcoAction Canada contributed to transform non-consumable solid food waste into livestock feed and compost for use by local farmers and community gardens. When they receive non-biodegradable waste, Quest diverts it to community services who have better use for certain items or are equipped with programs to safely process them, ultimately reducing landfill waste and harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

Quest has recently acquired a Ford Connect for smaller pick-ups and deliveries, which uses less fuel and is more environmentally friendly. They recycle with Urban Impact located in Richmond and their compost is collected by Smith-rite a company based in Coquitlam.

There is also a Quest outlet in the Student’s Union here on Capilano U's campus – their food services are available to those who fill out a Quest membership sign up form.

Vancouver Tool Library - Commerical Drive

Vancouver Tool Library (VTL) is a cooperative tool lending library located on Commercial Drive. They carry a variety of tools for home re- pair, gardening, and bicycle maintenance, which are loaned to their members free of charge. Their website states that they “are motivated by a vision of our community empowered by the tools and skills needed to transform their homes and communities into vibrant spaces that reflect a commitment to sustainability. To get there, we are creating a community resource that will reduce the costs of improving and greening the places in which we live, work, and play.”

Caitlin Dorward, Communications Coordinator at VTL, explains that they are just starting up the business and it is still very small. The store is open four days a week and is volunteer-led. The main idea behind the business is the concept that they are “supporting people to have sustainable lives; Vancouver Tool Library allows people to share resources, reducing packaging and manufacturing costs.”

This ties in with the term “collaborative consumption” coined by Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers, the authors of What's Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption. Botsman sees collaborative consumption as a social revo- lution that allows people to “create value out of shared and open resources in ways that balance personal self-interest with the good of the larger community." Instigation of such ideas like what has been done with the VTL help create a more sustainable community.

Dream Designs - Vancouver, North Vancouver & Burnaby

Dream Designs is a clothing and lifestyle store with retail locations on Commercial Drive, Marine Drive in West Vancouver and a factory outlet in Burnaby. Their website states, “For over a quarter of a century, Dream Designs has been creating well-made, sustainable products in Vancouver, Canada.” They have also recently introduced a fashion line.

Current owner and creative director, Bei Linda Tang, explains on the website, "Our rising stan- dard of living should not come at the expense of the environment … There are always sustainable alternatives, and as a business owner, I feel obligated to make those alternatives available."

However, according to Karen, one of the work- ers at the factory outlet in Burnaby, all of the mate- rials (which includes organic cotton) that Dream Designs sources to make their products come all the way from Turkey and China, and the towel material is sourced from Portugal. This is not a very sustainable process, as the fabrics travel a long way and use large amounts of energy. With two other retail outlets in the Vancouver area, it seems Dream Designs manages to keep sus- tainable working environments at the factory by spending less money sourcing cheaper material options from abroad.

Dream Designs has three programs in place to foster sustainability. One is Banner to Bags, where any individual or organization can mail in used banners, such as the seasonal ones hanging above neighbourhood streets, to be recycled into hand bags. Through Donate a Sheet, clean used sheets in acceptable conditions can be donated and are then given to local families and individu- als in need, with the incentive of receiving a 15 % discount at a Dream Designs location. Their third program, Textile Recycling, furthers fabric recy- cling by encouraging sewing old sheets, aprons, and clothing into re-usable products like tea co- zies. Their website offers resources for inspiration of creative projects.

In terms of acclamation, Dream Designs is a member of the Organic Trade Association, and is currently Runner-Up for the 2011 Best of Vancouver Georgia Straight competition. How much these make claim to true sustainabil- ity and environmental consciousness, however, is debatable.

As always, when choosing to purchase a product one must keep in mind the power of money. Whatever product bought is essentially a vote towards that company, and one must use diligence and mindfulness when doing so. It is never wrong to ask a store questions about where their sourcing and production takes place, what initiatives they are taking towards leaving a small carbon footprint, and whether they consider the environment in their business practice at all. A well-educated consumer is a re- sponsible citizen, especially in this day and age where it is easy to be swayed and influenced by the messages of advertisement and profit- oriented propaganda.

// Heather Welsh, Writer
// Illustrations by Tyler Hughes

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