…values-conscious consumers recognize there are inherent costs in operating a business sustainably, and they are prepared to pay a reasonable premium to support environmentally conscious businesses. But it can also simply be less expensive to use sustainable packaging. We recently switched from packaging our grab-and-go sandwiches in single-use plastic “clamshell” containers to simple butcher paper, a much more environmentally friendly packaging and also significantly less expensive.
Jon Roesser is the general manager for Weavers Way Co-op, Philadelphia’s largest grocery co-op with three locations. Jon strives to educate and advocate for a food system that is environmentally and ethically responsible.
Thank you for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Idecamped from “Corporate America”, thirteen years working finding no intrinsic satisfaction in my job and not feeling in any way connected to my city where I lived and worked. Working for Weavers Way I am intimately part of Philadelphia’s vibrant community.
What is the mission of your company? What problems are you aiming to solve?
Our mission is to serve our member-owners as a cooperatively-owned natural food retailer, one operating on a Triple Bottom Line, committed to providing the critical link between small farmers and producers — both local and global — and values-driven consumers.
Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?
As a food retailer we are part of a food system that is, while remarkable in many ways, also unsustainable given its overdependence on fossil fuels, pesticides, and single-use plastic packaging. To address climate change, we strive to operate our business carbon neutral. All of our electricity is generated by wind and solar power. We are in the process of switching to renewable natural gas (RNG) captured from landfills so we can eliminate our use of fracked natural gas. Sustainability-wise, we are about to launch a huge endeavor that will allow our customers to use reusable/returnable packaging for all prepared foods, meat & seafood, and produce in our stores, so they can eliminate their use of single-use plastic packages.
How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?
For starters, values-conscious consumers recognize there are inherent costs in operating a business sustainably, and they are prepared to pay a reasonable premium to support environmentally conscious businesses. But it can also simply be less expensive to use sustainable packaging. We recently switched from packaging our grab-and-go sandwiches in single-use plastic “clamshell” containers to simple butcher paper, a much more environmentally friendly packaging and also significantly less expensive.
The youth led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion what are 5 things parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.
- We should start by listening to our kids, they are trying to tell us something. Our children need to believe that their parents are paying attention to their concerns and that we are prepared to learn from them.
- Lead by example. Basic stuff like conscious home recycling and composting. Adopting good practices like using reusable grocery bags and coffee-to-go cups.
- Stop buying bottled water. Having one of those 24 packs of single-use plastic water bottles (which are themselves wrapped in plastic packaging!) in your house sends a signal to your kids that you just don’t care about the planet.
- Switch to a renewable energy supplier at home for both electric and gas. Chances are the rates are comparable and even if you pay a little more your kids will see you put your money where your priorities are.
- Try to incorporate more organic food into your diet. Most people who buy organic food are motivated by their own health and are careful about the food they put in their bodies (that’s a good thing). But make sure your kids understand the environmental impact of eating organic by reducing all those chemicals used in the growing of conventional food.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- You can’t convince everyone. It is regrettable but true that many consumers will not allow ethics to enter their minds when making choices about what food to buy. For many, price and convenience are the only considerations.
- There’s not enough attention paid to fair trade. Something labeled “organic” can still have been produced by exploited labor. Fair Trade certifications are not perfect, but they are demonstrably better than comparable products without such certifications. We need to emphasis fair trade products more.
- Collaboration is essential (and hard). Even this simplest of changes often requires buy-in and action from others. Getting them on-board with change early in the process, and making sure they feel like they are part of the process, is essential. That said, working collaboratively isn’t easy: it takes time and it can like it’s slowing you down.
- It’s easy to be complacent. In our business we spend almost all of our energy just running the day-to-day operation so it’s easy enough to maintain the status quo. Meanwhile we’re killing the planet. We need to be more aggressive.
- Some people are really mean. I have been taken aback by what some people have said about me, sometimes to my face, often behind my back. And then there are those anonymous on-line comments! I would be lying if I said I’ve found a way to shrug criticism off. Hoping my skin thickens over time.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
To the extent I was prepared to take on this job I owe a great deal to our previous general manager, Glenn Bergman. He took a big chance in hiring me in the first place and over the years he gave me more responsibility than my position necessarily warranted. And when it was time for him to transition to a new role, he gave me the support I needed to overcome my self-doubt.
You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
The lack of regard many individuals have for the welfare of the planet and wellbeing of humankind is a threat to our capitalist economic model. The free marketplace can be sustainable, but it will require a critical mass of people awakening to the needs of humanity and Mother Earth. So, the “movement” I envision is one where a majority of people become values-driven consumers.
Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?
Eleanor Roosevelt: “It’s better for everyone when it’s better for everyone.” This quote reminds me each day the importance of thinking about my community and not only myself. We must see how it is in the best interest of each us as individuals that prosperity be shared.
What is the best way for people to follow you on social media?
This was so inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!