Voted “Most Environmentally Friendly Business in Richmond” by Style Weekly readers in 2012, at Ellwood Thompson’s, we think that a business can inspire others to take a positive roll in protecting the environment. This means that every action we take needs to cause the least amount of harm possible to the environment. As a commercial business, decisions are often challenging and we’re not perfect, but we put careful consideration into all of our actions before moving forward.

Because of this commitment, we have developed an Environmental Pledge that states a clear promise of what you can expect from us.

Our Environmental Pledge:  At Ellwood Thompson’s, we realize that our actions directly impact our community and environment. It is our goal to establish strong environmental standards.

We make every effort to bring awareness to environmental issues and more importantly, practice what we preach. We strive to reduce our waste, recycle and compost everything we can, support alternative modes of transportation, and incorporate green building methods into our store. Being a sustainable community partner is something that we owe to our planet.

Sustainable Practices:

By staying true to our Environmental Pledge, we are able to make conscious decisions within our community and farmland that greatly reduces our negative impacts on this earth. Listed below are those  efforts we make inside and out of our store to ensure this pledge:

Buying and Sourcing Local Products:
By purchasing goods directly from local farmers and producers, we’re able to greatly reduce transportation miles from the farm to your plate. Besides the many economical advantages, buying locally also allows us to develop strong relationships with these farmers to promote clean growing practices, sustainable soil treatment, fair treatment of farm workers and animal welfare. We’re strict on labeling correctly, thus when you see a local integrity pin, you can be assured that the product is from within 100 miles.

No Plastic Bags:
In 2008, Ellwood Thompson’s took a big step by being the first grocer in Richmond to stop using plastic bags.  We believe that “paper or plastic?” is the wrong question. It’s time to start asking if our resources, our environment, and money should be depleted every time we shop. By banning plastic bags at our checkout, we’re saving nearly 4,000 plastic bags per week and nearly 200,000 per year.  Although paper bags still use natural resources, the raw material is far easier to recycle and more likely to be used again. All of our paper bags are made from 100% post consumer recycled paper.

Further more, for bringing in and using your own bags, even plastic ones, we will give you 10-cents back per bag used. It’s our bag credit program and it’s that simple.

Recycling Efforts:
It’s hard for a business in Richmond to recycle. Most efforts have to be outsourced to third parties. However, recycling is something we’ve been doing since 1989 and it first starts internally with our stewards.

From our break rooms to our offices, recycling stations and bins are easily available. We separate bottles, cans, and especially dry paper. Stations are clearly labeled throughout the store and used regularly by stewards. Stewards are also required to have their own coffee/drinking container so that paper cups are not used.  For larger items such as the many cardboard boxes we go through, we flatten each box and then put it through our cardboard bailer. These cardboard boxes are then taken away to be recycled and used again.

When it comes to customer recycling, we make it as easy as possible. Large recycling stations are located in the store and outside of the store in the dining areas. Bins are clearly labeled so that we reduce the amount of material thrown in the wrong container. It is estimated that at least 60% of our store-generated waste is recycled.

Reusable and Compostable Food Containers:
Our hot bar, vegetarian bar, and salad bar are popular destinations for those looking for a delicious, fresh meal.  In an effort to further our environmental stewardship we incentivize customers to purchase reusable BPA free plastic containers, use dishes as opposed to one-time-use containers and offer compostable containers for those to the go. Many options that are all provided in an effort to lessen our environmental impact.

A BPA-free Environment
BPA-freeBPA (which stands for bisphenol A) is an industrial chemical that’s been used in the majority of plastic manufacturing and resins since the 1960’s. Although it’s getting easier and easier to find plastics that are BPA-free, the majority of these materials out there are filled with the harsh chemical. Research has shown that BPA can seep into food, beverages, and even your body and has also been linked to reproductive problems, brain impairments, cancer, obesity and more. It’s a chemical we’re not too fond of. In an effort to eliminate the chemical from our store, we’re taking the following steps. 1) Sourcing from companies that package with BPA-Free plastics. 2) Banning the use of petroleum-based plastic bags 3) Encouraging our customers to bring in their own containers for water, bulk items, and food dishes. 4) Providing our customers with non-plastic based to-go containers and BPA-free drinking containers. 5)Using BPA-free thermal receipt tape at all of our registers.

Rain Barrels:
Our storefront is home to two, 80-gallon rain barrels tied in directly to our gutters. These two time-old methods of storing water allow us to easily water the many plants and herbs that we sell in front of our store without relying on city water. It’s one addition that many residents and businesses can do to their homes or store fronts to make a difference. The City of Richmond even offers a Storm Water Tax Credit. We like to say, “When it rains, it stores.”

Solar Panels:
In 2012, we teamed up with Urban Grid Solar, a Richmond based company, to install the first of many solar panels on our south-facing roof. Although these solar panels only make up for a small amount of the energy we use, they’re the start of a larger-scale renewable energy program. Our goal is to, one day soon, have our entire roof filled with solar panels.  Our current system is the equivalent to not driving 100,000 miles. To view a live feed of our energy usage and storage, click here.

Composting is a tricky task, but there are a couple of things we do to make it easier. Internally, we save the majority of our food scraps and left over “pulp” from our vegetable juicers and donate them to any local farmer that wants them. The remaining organic material is taken away by a local company that creates an organic “compost tea” fertilizer. We sell this fertilizer in the summer months. We also offer compostable to-go containers for our hot bar, salad bar and raw bar.

Food Waste Reduction & Donations:
Large grocers have the ability to sell lots of food. Unfortunately, they have the ability to produce a lot of food waste at the same time. What doesn’t sell is typically thrown out. We tackle this issue with a few easy steps to greatly reduce food waste.

Quarter Bin Program: Goods that have been taken off the shelf due to a nearly expired date or items such as a bruised apple are offered to our employee’s for the cost of 25-cents. This greatly reduces the amount of goods that are thrown out.

Maymont Park Food Donation: Much of our produce that has been removed from the shelves is donated to Richmond’s Maymont Park to help feed animals.

Food Not Bombs: This Richmond-based, grassroots organization collects our available food donations to help feed the needy at Monroe Park on Sunday afternoons. For more information on Food Not Bombs, visit their website.

Environmentally Friendly Building Materials:
We work closely with architects and builders to source locally and reclaimed materials such as heart pine and other recycled woods. When working with store expansions, our contractors make a strong effort to reuse material whenever they can. We incorporate visually interesting elements like recycled glass into our concrete countertops at our coffee bar and customer service station. Materials are purchased based on their durability too, not just their “green” image. This often is a simple, longer lasting, efficient way to be sustainable.

Commercial spaces, especially retails ones, require  a lot of light. Retailers almost always want their product to stand out, and often large amounts of lighting are used to do this. We take a different approach to lighting our store by choosing bulbs and fixtures that are either LED or fluorescent, so that we can get a longer life out of the bulb with using much less energy and heat.

If there’s one thing that we’re truly passionate about, it’s food. If there’s another, it’s our community and how important the element of sustainability is to its current and future members. Working to make Richmond one of the most eco-friendly cities in the world might be far-fetched, but it’s a goal we’re aiming to achieve.  This city is lucky to have a great bus system, local bike and scooter shops, and hundreds of miles of sidewalks. We would like to reward those who choose these available methods.

In an effort to continually help and encourage alternative means of transportation in this city, we reward those individuals that arrive to our store using environmentally friendly methods. We call it our Envirocredit, and it’s pretty simple: If you get to our store by walking, riding a bike, taking the bus, skateboarding, rollerblading, skipping, running, or even walking on your hands, we’ll take 25-cents off your purchase. It’s as simple as that.

When you check out, just mention to your cashier how you got to our store. If it fits the Envirocredit description, we’ll take 25-cents off your entire bill. We also offer large amounts of bicycle parking outside of our store and plenty of room for scooter and mopeds.

Store Signage:
We see our store signage as being the first step in customer education. There’s plenty to tell in this store and when a steward isn’t available, our signage has to perform. But how can signage be considered “green” and why are we even talking about it right now?

If you go to any major grocery store, you’re likely to see large, glossy vinyl banners hanging from the ceilings and walls, showing color rich photos of happy cows and fresh fruits. Although these banners may look nice, the material may impact our environment. Then, once these banners and signs are ready to be updated, they’re usually not recycled.

The majority of our display signage is made locally by hand using reclaimed woods and chalkboard. Using a chalkboard material allows us to repeatedly change what’s on the sign and continue its life, rather than throwing it away. It may not be an issue that you immediately think of, but it’s something we have to consider everyday.