Mt Airy Greening Network - MAGNet

Introducing 'Eco-buy!' at Weavers Way Co-op
Ameet Ravital 28 Jan 2006

Many Weavers Way shoppers would like to shop responsibly, using our purchasing power to buy healthy food from companies with responsible environmental practices, who don't use wasteful packaging, and who are relatively nearby, decreasing our environmental footprints.  But, we want our shopping trips to be quick, not morphing into research missions, requiring magnifying glasses to glean the information required to make wise choices.  Voila!  Weavers Way has deployed a team of volunteers to streamline this process by researching our inventory and generating product "scores", making it quick and easy for those so inclined to be better eco-shoppers.
In the past few months you might have caught sight of us -- pairs of Co-op members, standing in front of one of the shelves with a clipboard, animatedly debating one product after another with each other.  Food products are rated in four areas:
  1. Health Impact: products that are organic, unprocessed, and contain no refined sugar or hydrogenated oils.
  2. Packaging: minimal and easily recyclable packaging (glass, metal, or cardboard).
  3. Distance: locally grown or packaged.  (If this is not discernible from the label's information, it is scored "low".)
  4. Social and Environmental Impact: again, organic ingredients (for their safety for agricultural workers, as well as for the land), fair-trade and/or co-operatively run businesses.
These four scores are combined for an overall "Green Score".  In evaluating products, the audit attempts to assess the impact of transporting them from their point of origin as well as their end-of-life impact on our planet.  We may also identify products we think are missing and research purchasing options.
For non-food items (especially on the 2nd floor), a high green score is based on the same packaging, distance, and social impact criteria as above, as well as three additional ones.
  1. Resource use: products that actually reduce household resource consumption (such as a low-flow showerhead).
  2. Durability: long-lasting over many uses.
  3. End of life: reusable, recyclable and/or biodegradable.
In many categories, the results are not obvious.  Take a box of Envirokidz' Organic Gorilla Munch.  It rates a high score on social and environmental impact (they donate a percentage of sales towards wildlife conservation), a medium score on health impact (despite the organic label, the second ingredient is evaporated cane juice, or sugar), a medium score on packaging (like most cereal, its inner lining is neither recyclable nor reusable), and low score on distance since it comes from across the country (more fossil fuel for transporting it to the Co-op).  So, is it a good product or not?  Gorilla Munch's green score comes in at 65 (out of 100), well above Kashi's Medley (50) but not quite as green as Arrowhead Mills' Seven Grain Cereal (75), which tops the list. Comparing green scores should be as easy as comparing prices.  Of course the score doesn't tell you if your kid will eat the higher scoring product...  But at least you'll know your options!
In reality, no product comes close to getting full marks on all criteria.  We envision an ongoing process of evaluation, with a goal of expanding our products at the highest possible end of the green score scale.  Members can then have a range of choices in shopping, including items that help your household live lightly on the earth with a less negative impact on resources.
The Eco-Buy Audit, once completed, will be used in several ways.  First, we will identify the green leaders in each category.  These eco-winners will be labeled with our newly designed "Eco-Buy" logo, making them easy to spot them throughout the store.  Second, the audit also identifies products which could be readily sold in bulk (thereby eliminating a great deal of packaging), and this list will help develop an expanded bulk-foods section.  Finally, having green scores makes it possible to make strategic decisions to eliminate certain items (that are notoriously low-scoring) and to press our suppliers to offer items that are higher scoring.
Down the road, we hope to export our home-grown Weavers Way ranking system to co-operatives throughout the country, giving rise to higher visibility of all of the green criteria used in scoring products and placing more pressure on suppliers everywhere to offer sustainable and socially-just products.
The audit team is a joint project of the Weavers Way Environment Committee and the Mt. Airy Greening Network (MAGNet), a group of local neighbors dedicated to making Mt. Airy (and the rest of Philadelphia) an environmentally sustainable and vibrant place to live.  The audit team is happy to have additional volunteers.  You can contact me at 'aravital at' if you want to join our ranks.  It's an educational and interesting way to meet your WW work requirement.
page last updated: March 15, 2006.