Whole Foods Market is a “natural foods” grocer based in Austin, Texas. On Tuesday they announced that they will be buying 458,000 megawatt-hours of wind credits per year, enough to cover all 173 of their stores throughout North America. This move makes them the largest corporate consumer of renewable energy in the United States.
Whole Foods regional president Michael Besancon said, “It’s a sales driver rather than a cost. All of those things we do related to our core values: help drive sales, help convince a customer to drive past three or four other supermarkets on the way to Whole Foods.”
On October 1, 2005, the EPA listed Whole Foods as the eighth-largest renewable energy customer, but this new purchase will put the company at #1, pushing the U.S. Air Force down to #2 and Johnson & Johnson down to #4, while the EPA themselves drop to #3.
Whole Foods Market began as a health-food store in Austin, Texas, but has expanded and diversified so that now it carries both healthy foods like a large selection of organic produce and not-so-healthy foods like Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Their clientele at a store in Plano, Texas, is primarily wealthier SUV-driving professionals who pay a little more for what is mostly available at their local grocery store, primarily because Whole Foods Market’s image is that of a company that treats their employees and suppliers well and is committed to shared values, but also because Whole Foods is a one-stop shop, with a larger selection of healthy and high-end choices than most grocery stores.
Besancon said as much when he described this new committment as a “sales driver.” Some might wonder what the net impact on the environment would actually be if they succeed in encouraging customers “to drive past three or four other supermarkets on the way to Whole Foods,” given how much gas those SUVs consume.
It reminds me of a Thomas Dolby song, Wind Power: Switch off the mind and let the heart decide / who you were meant to be.
I expect to see marketing material trumpeting this changeover on my next visit to Whole Foods Market (which will be soon, I should disclaim), and based on past marketing campaigns from Whole Foods, it will almost certainly be detailed enough to explain to consumers how they, too, can support renewable energy like wind power.