Whole Foods' Dietitian Incorporates Sustainability Education Into Role

Whole Foods' Dietitian Incorporates Sustainability Education Into Role

November 5, 2014

As the Healthy Eating Specialist at Whole Foods Market in Overland Park, KS, Lisa Markley has made sustainability part of her nutrition and culinary education efforts.  How does she do it? Read on to learn more.

Can you tell us about the Green Mission practices at Whole Foods Market?

Whole Foods Market understands that companies can have a large impact on our environment. Green Mission is our company-wide commitment to putting environmental stewardship and sustainability into practice. A big part of our Green Mission is following the golden rule of environmental stewardship: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Some ways we work to reduce our impact on the earth’s resources include:

  • Recycling all recyclable packaging and packing peanuts.
  • Utilizing compostable supplies for food demos, packaging, and take out.
  • Using reusable dishes in our dining areas.
  • Recycling program for our number 5 recycled plastic utensils and yogurt containers.
  • Composting all food waste - which has reduced our landfill waste by up to 75% in some regions.
  • Reducing food waste by donating culled items to our local food bank.
  • Reducing “food miles” by sourcing foods and products from local and regional vendors.
  • Banning plastic grocery bags and rewarding customers who bring their own bags with $0.10 per bag off their grocery bill.
  • Providing receptacles for glass and plastic recycling in our dining areas along with collection boxes in many stores for ink jet cartridges.
  • Retrofitting existing stores with energy efficiency and using innovative green materials in the construction of new stores and remodeling projects.
  • Fundraising for our Whole Kids Foundation® School Garden Grant program, which provides monetary grants for local schools to establish and maintain onsite gardens.
  • Prioritizing our commitment to organics. We believe organic agriculture produces food that promotes the health of consumers, farmers and the earth, with an eye to maintaining that health far into the future.

How do you promote sustainability in your everyday activities in the store?

I am grateful to have a job that aligns with my own personal beliefs and values about food, health, and sustainability. On a daily basis, I get to inspire our customers to think about the relationships between our food supply, the environment, and our bodies, and empower them to make informed choices.

As part of our Health Starts Here® program, I teach customers tangible, practical ways to increase plant-based, whole foods into the diet, which is a great way to optimize nutrition while reducing the “carbon food-print” associated with a diet too heavy on animal products. I also educate customers about healthful ways to incorporate our sustainably raised meat and sustainably caught seafood.

I educate our customers about our Responsibly Grown program in our Produce department. Responsibly Grown focuses on farming practices that impact our environment and human health. Produce items are rated as “Good”, “Better”, or “Best” depending on how the farms we source our produce from score when the following key categories are assessed: 1) soil health, 2) air, energy, climate, 3) waste reduction, 4) farmworker welfare, 5) water conservation and protection, 6) ecosystems and biodiversity, 7) pest management. This program was created to complement, not replace, existing labels on produce and flowers such as organic certification, local, and Whole Trade®.

I encourage our customers to buy in bulk. It reduces wasteful packaging and saves money. Also, many of the items we sell in our bulk department are organically grown. Plus, most of the foods are whole, minimally processed foods that didn’t rely on a lot of energy to produce.

You are prepping to host a Tea Tasting Class, how are you weaving the sustainability message into the class?

For this class, we are featuring Shang Tea, a local organic tea producer. Shang is part owner of an organic tea farm in China and sells his unique tea in small batches in our community. He will share with our participants the story of organically grown tea, from field to cup. The dinner menu for this class will feature ingredients that are in local, seasonal, and organic wherever possible. All food waste will be composted and recyclables recycled. In addition to having the opportunity to enjoy Shang’s delicious tea, participants will leave understanding more about where their food comes from and how they can make sustainable choices.

What are some of the top questions shoppers have when it comes to sustainability?

“If I can’t afford to eat 100% organic, which foods should I prioritize to buy organic?”  I refer shoppers to the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list to determine which vegetables and fruit carry the most pesticide residue, encourage them to opt for frozen items (like organic berries) for better value, and our budget friendly 365 Everyday Value brand products for meat, dairy, eggs, and grocery items.

“What are GMOs and how can I avoid them?” Here are our “6 Tips for Shopping to Avoid GMOs”.

“How can I eat more local foods?” Every summer, we host an annual “Local Foods Festival” where customers are invited to meet our local vendors and learn more about their great products. I also guide customers on shopping tours and tasting tours to help them identify locally and regionally sourced foods.

Are your co workers also promoting sustainability, is this something each department is prepped on and is the whole store educated about general sustainability practices at WFM?

Yes. Our Green Mission is a storewide initiative and sustainability efforts are well-represented in each department. During orientation, all of our Team Members are educated about Green Mission, which is a key part of our core values. In each store, we also have team members who are our designated Green Mission representatives. Their role is to ensure that our Green Mission practices are being implemented and to troubleshoot areas for improvement. Team Members also have opportunities for additional training specific to their department on topics like organics, sustainable meat and seafood, etc. 

Are you seeing a positive change in shoppers mind when it comes to sustainability practices?

Yes, many customers shop here specifically because their values align with our values. We are grateful to have a number of customers who are committed to taking small steps in improving their environmental stewardship efforts, which in turn can impact their health and the health of the planet.

Are shoppers more aware in ways in which they can contribute to the sustainability movement?   

Yes, I think that the more customers are educated about ways that they can make a difference, the more they are willing to try. I think a perfect example of this is when shoppers bring in their own bags. Most shoppers are now into the simple habit of reusing shopping bags and they feel good about reducing waste in this way. Plus, we are able to give them $0.10 back per bag, or donate their bag credits to a local cause – this is something they can feel good about on multiple levels

Lisa Markley, MS, RDN is the Healthy Eating Specialist at Whole Foods Market in Overland Park, KS. As a nutrition and culinary educator, Lisa emphasizes tangible, practical ways of cooking with health-supportive ingredients prepared in ways that taste delicious. Her specialty is cooking simple nourishing recipes featuring plant-based, whole foods, clean animal products, and food-allergy friendly meals that are local, organic, and seasonal whenever possible. You can reach her at lisa.markley@wholefoods.com.