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Hunger Mountain Coop Climbs towards Sustainability

Just like organic vegetables and buying in bulk, for many food co-ops, environmental sustainability in how they operate is not a new idea. Hunger Mountain Coop, a community-owned natural foods cooperative in Montpelier, Vermont, is exemplary for its long-term commitment to running a sustainable store.

For the past forty-three (and counting) years, Hunger Mountain has considered the environmental impact of their business decisions and operations. "We don't have something we call an official 'sustainability program,' really, those considerations have just always been a part of the co-op's DNA," says Mary Mullally, Hunger Mountain's Facilities Manager. This informal commitment is nonetheless evidenced by the store's recognition as a Vermont Green Grocery Environmental Leader, which means they have been chosen by the state as a an example of a business that goes beyond compliance with existing environmental regulations, using resource conservation strategies and implementing environmental best management practices.

In recent years, the co-op has made some innovative improvements in energy efficiency by targeting refrigeration and HVAC systems. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), addressing refrigeration efficiency is the most important thing a supermarket can do to improve their environmental impact. The co-op has reduced their need for refrigerant in the winter by installing a system that cools walk-in coolers during the winter by circulating in cold air from outside. Additionally, they've installed a heat reclamation tank that captures heat from their refrigeration system to preheat hot water used on-site.

With the help of the non-profit Efficiency Vermont, the co-op conducted an energy audit, which resulted in additional ideas for improving their energy use. Efficiency Vermont provided recommendations and expertise about what government rebates might be available to offset the costs of upgrades or renovations. Results of the audit included replacing fluorescent lighting with LEDs and further improving refrigeration efficiency. Nonprofits similar to Efficiency Vermont exist in most states across the United States and can assist businesses with similar audits.

As of January, 2015, Hunger Mountain Coop began formally tracking sustainability metrics such as electrical and propane usage, compost, recycling and trash quantities through Co+efficient, a national sustainability program offered by National Co+op Grocers (the organization behind this website). "We've already found Co+efficient to be helpful, especially in that we're able to compare our store to others. If we notice that our electrical usage seems high, we can compare with other similar-sized stores in our region and find out how they are addressing the same challenges.” says Mullally. "Now that we have a year's worth of data, we look forward to referencing it as a tool to further guide our decisions." Hunger Mountain plans to continue its forty-plus year commitment to energy efficiency by pursuing solar energy credits in the future.