Here’s how this online grocery store works to become the world’s first climate-positive grocery store
Online grocer and B Corp Thrive Market has set several ambitious goals: to be zero waste by 2022, plastic neutral by 2023 and carbon negative by 2025.
But what does it all mean? Senior Mission Manager Christine De Simone, who has been with the company since 2015, breaks those terms to share more about her sustainability journey, saying it’s important to keep moving forward. “Businesses should take urgent measures at present and that means constantly checking and improving environmental behavior,” he says.
Ultimately, Thrive Market wants to be the first climate-positive grocery store in the world.
Chhabra: Let’s start with zero waste. One of your facilities recently received gold level certification under the TRUE rating system. What does this mean for business?
From Simon: We are honored to receive Zero Waste certification for our Hanover property, marking our third and final fulfillment center to achieve this prestigious designation. Acquiring these certification steps is to achieve our five-year sustainability goals, including Zero Waste certification across our execution line in 2022.
Chhabra: It’s not just about reducing waste in the facility or office. That’s comprehensive, right? What does this certification mean?
It is managed by Green Business Certification Inc. TRUE helps facilities measure, improve, and recognize zero-waste performance – this certification includes a) adoption of sustainable waste management and b) overall waste reduction practices, resulting in environmental, health, and economic outcomes.
It goes beyond the bogus numbers and details the upstream policies and practices that make zero waste successful in any organization and beyond. The goal of the REAL project is to divert all solid waste from landfill, incineration (waste-to-energy) and the environment. Facilities are certified by meeting seven minimum program requirements and scoring at least 31 points on the TRUE application. Each fulfillment center must submit its diversion percentage annually, requiring 90%+ to remain in good standing.
Chhabra: Your efforts to be zero waste are also linked to your goal of being plastic neutral. This is not an easy task considering that some form of plastics are involved in the packaging and transportation of goods.
Thrive Market received a clear message from members asking them to recognize the fragility of food products and reduce their use of plastic.
Yes, so last August we did a full-scale packaging reduction effort to reduce 70% of all plastic packaging, 25% of Geaemi’s total paper. [the kraft packaging material used to keep fragile products safe] and almost 100% duct tape.
Starting with assessing the attribute needs of each SKU, Thrive Market’s fulfillment teams evaluated all 5,500 SKUs across the catalog, including: drop testing, packaging quality testing, and tamper seal testing.
For a real-world example, take Thrive Market’s Organic Fruit Spread, which originally came with Geami and a multi-pack. Through this audit, Thrive Market recognized that because it was packaged in Geami, which has a gel-like consistency, a lockable seal cap, and is packed in a thick glass container – it passed the drop test. So they were able to pull the polybag addition because it wasn’t really needed.
Chhabra: It helps reduce unnecessary plastic bags. But what defines plastic neutrality?
Simply put, Plastic Neutrality means we’re balancing our plastic footprint by funding the recovery of the ocean plastic waste we use in our packaging and shipping, and being certified plastic neutral by rePurpose Global represents our commitment to transparent progress. reducing our footprint and investing directly in projects that fight the global plastic pollution crisis.
Thrive Market’s priority has always been to reduce packaging and shipping materials as much as possible, with a particular focus on reducing plastic. If we can’t reduce, we offset our plastic footprint by buying plastic savings credits (like buying carbon credits to measure and offset our carbon emissions). Our new partnership with rePurpose Global allows us to do just that. We have collected and measured all data related to plastics in our brand products (any plastic packaging used) and shipping materials (any plastic bags sent on member orders) and provided those measurements for intended use.
For every ounce of plastic we send to our members, we invest in projects that remove an equal amount of plastic pollution from our oceans through our rePurpose partnership.
Chhabra: Tell us about your experiences with alternative materials. You’ve been looking for eco-friendly materials for the past few years. But finding effective and affordable materials seems to be difficult. How was the process?
We’ve tested many compostable bag options over the past three years, and found that most of the ones we initially tested didn’t hold liquids reliably for long periods of time and weren’t efficient vessels for transportation. The bags that worked best were more expensive and we realized that we needed to solve the problem of using generic bags before releasing more expensive packaging.
This year we looked into the use of plastic bags and were able to assess which products needed bags based on a newly developed drop test. As a result of this test, we reduced the use of plastic bags by about 70 percent.
We also investigated alternative materials for insulated envelopes used in the summer when shipping temperature-sensitive items such as probiotics and chocolate (thermopods). Historically, we’ve used plastic-wrapped recycled cardboard or recycled denim (with two-inch-thick insulation, one inch on each side, similar to an envelope).
Our first step change in the process will be to remove the thick insulation and switch to LDPE #4 alternative, which is made from 30 percent post-consumer recycled content and is still short-term recyclable and registered with the H2R (recycling) program. This change reduces the amount of box enlargement required by the previous solution and, in turn, reduces the need for larger boxes than intended, ultimately reducing carbon emissions. This new alternative is also capable of storing six times more units per pallet position, requiring fewer trucks to be delivered to Thrive Market.
Chhabra: It feels like progress. So, what is Thrive Market struggling with when it comes to waste in fulfillment centers? Still having trouble?
As we continue to promote the full experience of making healthy living accessible to our members, we are moving towards our goal of becoming carbon skin by 2025 – delivering a member-first experience. Decreasing usage will be an ongoing issue. Decreasing packet size and using delivery is always a continuous learning and improvement cycle that continues to evolve every year.
Composting will be important to us in the future. It’s a learning curve for our team, but it’s a worthwhile investment and a win-win when it comes to reducing our carbon footprint as we begin to capitalize on potential opportunities.
Chhabra: You have a 5-year sustainable development goal that aims to be carbon negative by 2025. Can you share a little bit about the journey and why it had to happen over five years rather than a quick one?
Setting a 5-year sustainability goal is a reality not norm. Many businesses set long-term goals for the 2040s or 2050s, with no short-term goals or accountability checks.
At Thrive Market, we’ve found it necessary to set short-term goals and consistently report on our progress; we have set additional goals that are ambitious but also achievable (ie zero waste by 2022, plastic neutral by 2023, carbon negative by 2025).
Our team knew that achieving TRUE Zero-Waste Certification would be a difficult task—certification is not just based on adulteration percentages, and requires a full team effort to quantify our performance and find additional ways to improve our zero-waste journey.
Finally, our most aggressive goal is to achieve carbon skin. Thrive Market is committed to becoming the world’s first climate-positive grocer by becoming a truly restorative company, not just neutralizing our impact. net positive impact on our planet.