This post originally appeared on the Environmental Investigation Agency blog.
By Danielle Gagne, HFC & Climate Policy Analyst and Lowell Chandler, HFC Intern, Environmental Investigation Agency
For those of you heading to Whole Foods this Thanksgiving week, you may want to think twice. As it turns out, America’s so-called “healthiest grocery store” isn’t so healthy for the planet. The organic, grass-fed, gluten-free, cold-pressed turkey in your shopping cart is being refrigerated with some of the most potent greenhouse gases in the world called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) – gases used in refrigerators and air conditioners with global warming potential hundreds to thousands of times higher than carbon dioxide.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, commercial refrigeration units like those used by Whole Foods leak on average 25 percent of the 4,000 pounds of HFC chemicals used each year. For a store that has labeled itself as a “participant in the movement to a sustainable world,” each of Whole Foods’ 315 stores is venting these potent climate-damaging chemicals as customers buy turkeys for their Thanksgiving meal, despite the availability of environmentally-friendly, natural refrigeration technologies in the marketplace.
Whole Foods customers must demand more from the store that claims to be a sustainable grocery option and charges them for it. Leaking climate-killing gases unnecessarily into the atmosphere is not acceptable, especially when those emissions make up approximately 40 percent of a supermarket’s carbon footprint.
Whole Foods Lags
As detailed in our recent report, Whole Foods lags behind several U.S. supermarkets on HFC and refrigeration policies, even finishing behind grocery giant Walmart. Whole Foods also lags behind supermarkets in Europe, Canada, South Africa, Brazil and Japan, thousands of which are transitioning to natural refrigeration technologies, such as carbon dioxide, hydrocarbons, and ammonia cascade systems. With more than 4,000 supermarkets using these climate-friendly systems across Europe, and more than 50 stores in just one province of Canada alone, it is shocking that Whole Foods has only one HFC-free store in the works and has stated that it does not plan any others.
While Whole Foods has recently taken a small step towards controlling leakage, piloting EOS Climate’s Refrigerant Asset System, more needs to be done to institute climate-friendly refrigeration technologies and roll out these leakage control systems and maintenance in all stores. Additionally, while the EOS system monitors and evaluates a store’s use of refrigerants, it does not eliminate the use of HFCs.
Technology exists to transition to climate-friendly options now and reduce these emissions close to zero. This Thanksgiving, we hope Whole Foods steps up and gives us something to be thankful for — a supermarket that is truly tackling their greenhouse gas emissions by pledging to make all new stores and retrofits HFC-free.