Greenpeace Releases Report on ‘Best and Worst’ of Sustainable Seafood Retailers

Salmon Sustainability

Whole Foods Market seafood sustainability guide

There are few issues of greater importance to humanity than the health of the world’s oceans.  Covering just over 70% of the Earth’s surface, oceans are the most significant geological feature on the planet.  According to the UN, over 200 million people are completely dependent on fishing as a source of livelihood and nourishment.  Therefore, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s estimate that “…over 70% of the world’s fish species are either fully exploited or depleted” is nothing short of alarming.  Although many in the West are aware that our oceans (and subsequently fish) are highly polluted with heavy metals, the issue of overfishing is seldom cited as a significant problem.  Nick Nuttall, the Head of Media Services for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), states that, “The magnitude of the problem of overfishing is often overlooked, given the competing claims of deforestation, desertification, energy resource exploitation and other biodiversity depletion dilemmas”.

Greenpeace, one of the world’s largest environmental NGO’s, has made a major attempt to correct the situation through its annual Carting Away the Oceans ReportOften referred to as CATO, the report seeks to provide a window of transparency into the policies and programs of the nations largest seafood retailers.  The report measures the performance of various supermarket chains and suppliers in five categories: Rating, Policy, Initiatives, Transparency, and Red List Sales.  An overall score is then generated to provide a ranking system for the companies profiled.


Seafood packaged in Be Green trays.

One of Be Green Packaging’s biggest customers, Whole Foods Market, has consistently ranked highly on the CATO list (top 5), and this year is no exception. Whole Foods has earned its spot by maintaining stringent guidelines concerning where and how it sources its seafood and by simultaneously maintaining transparency in its operations.  In the report, Greenpeace states, “Whole Foods Market is among the most progressive members in the US seafood retail sector.”

Not mentioned in Greenpeace’s CATO report, however, is the fact that Whole Food’s takes its sustainable vision one step farther than the rest of the competition by packaging its seafood in Be Green Packaging’s compostable and recyclable trays, which are manufactured entirely from wild harvested plant fibers such as bamboo and bulrush.  The two companies began working together in early 2008 on trays for the prepared foods department and the collaboration proved to be so successful that Whole Foods has since integrated Be Green’s packaging into other departments in their stores, such as meat, produce, and seafood.

“What I like about the Be Green trays [are] the quality of [them]”, commented Ramiro Delgadio, Team Leader of the Seafood Department at Whole Foods Santa Monica store.  “They’re way better than the foam [trays].  Working at Whole Foods market you want something that will go in to the compost… you know its been recycled.  Thats’s the best thing about it.  You know, we’re living… what Be Green is.”

Whole Foods was initially attracted to Be Green Packaging due to their extensive list of 3rd party environmental and social certifications, which were in step with the company’s own efforts to go above and beyond the current standards in the supermarket industry.

This year saw Whole Foods market capture the #4 position on the list.  The company dropped one spot from last years high of #3.  However, it is important to note that this is not due to a lowering of the company’s standards, but rather a comparative increase in the stringency of its competitors standards. In fact, Greenpeace points out that “Although [Whole Foods] has dropped to #4 in this update of the Carting Away the Oceans project, the chain is poised to potentially recapture the top spot.”  This is due to recently announced plans by the company to stop selling all “red-listed” seafood by Earth Day 2012.  A “red listing” refers to any species of fish which has a “…very high risk of being sourced from unsustainable fisheries.”, as judged by Greenpeace, which created the standard.

Greenpeace went on to commend the company regarding its ‘Sustainable Seafood Policy’ stating:

 “Whole Foods maintains the strongest and most complex sourcing policy of any of the twenty retailers examined within the context of this report. While there is still room for improvement, Whole Foods’ policy is indeed at the front of the pack in terms of its comprehensive and science-based nature.”

Other high-ranking companies in this years report are Safeway (#1), Target and Wegmans (tied for #2), and Ahold (#5).  Along with Whole Foods, these companies are pioneering a new precedent in sustainable seafood by allowing consumers to make educated choices and to vote with their wallets every time they shop.

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