UNFI Takes on Waste Reduction, Climate Action and Food Access

Bridget Goldschmidt
Managing Editor
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UNFI Takes on Waste Reduction, Climate Action and Food Access Better for All
Better for All will serve as a unifying message to inspire pride across UNFI and as an overarching platform to issue updates on its environmental, social and governance progress.

United Natural Foods Inc.’s recently released 2020 Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Report presented the company’s strategic and data-driven 2030 goals, which aim to accelerate positive and critical change over the next 10 years.

“As pioneers in our industry since 1976, leading by example on pressing social and environmental issues is both part of our DNA and our inherent responsibility,” noted Steven L. Spinner, UNFI’s chairman and CEO. “UNFI made great strides in building our wholesale, services and brands business in 2020 while putting a heightened focus on issues such as the safety and well-being of our associates and the communities we serve. As we look to the future, we now have an exciting plan to pursue real solutions for climate change, food justice and insecurity, as well as diversity and inclusion. We view ourselves as a force for positive change, helping to define the future of food.”

UNFI’s 10th annual report is guided by such frameworks as GRI (Global Reporting Initiative) and SASB (Sustainability Accounting Standards Board). It also includes the company’s first disclosure aligned to recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-Related Disclosures.

UNFI’s 2030 “Better for All”-themed agenda features three pillars: Building Better for Our World, Our Communities and Our People. Better for All will serve as a unifying message to inspire pride across the company and as an overarching platform to issue updates on its ESG progress.

The agenda focuses on six key priorities: climate action, waste reduction, food safety, food access, safety and wellbeing, and diversity and inclusion. To ensure progress in each of these areas, UNFI pledged itself to several goals and commitments, among them:

  • Establishing science-based emissions reduction targets spanning operational and value-chain emissions by 2022
  • 20% of electricity from renewable sources by 2023
  • 50% reduction in food waste by 2025
  • Zero waste to landfill from distribution center operations by 2030
  • 30% reduction in distribution center energy intensity by 2030
  • Donating 250 million pounds of food, the equivalent to about 208 million meals, by 2030
  • Logging 200,000 associate volunteer hours by 2030

Throughout last year, UNFI made various moves to advance its ESG actions, including:

  • The adoption of award-winning safety measures to keep front-line associates safe during the COVID-19 pandemic 
  • Piloting its first all-electric solar-powered refrigerated trailer, with the possibility of further expansion
  • The rollout of new paid parental leave benefits
  • The improvement of its CDP Climate Change response score to an A- through enhanced disclosures and actions to lower emissions, mitigate climate risks and further the low-carbon economy
  • Achieving a 7% year-over-year improvement in food waste diverted from landfills
  • The delivery of 23 million pounds of donated food, the equivalent of around 19 million meals

“2020 was a pivotal year for ESG at UNFI,” said Alisha Real, UNFI’s director of sustainability and social impact. “We completed a robust strategic planning process and significantly deepened our focus on key priorities. The steps we will take over the next decade are critical to ensuring a future that is Better for All. UNFI impacts the lives of millions of people throughout North America, and we are dedicated to taking meaningful action by activating our 27,000 associates, 15,000 customers and more than 11,000 suppliers to accelerate progress toward achieving our near-term and 2030 commitments to transform the foodscape and our world.”

The annual report also noted the creation of a CEO-led executive steering committee and the completion of a full materiality assessment.

Last month, ahead of the release of the ESG report and its 2030 agenda, the wholesaler revealed that it was reducing its impact on climate change by setting science-based emissions reduction targets covering its own operations and value chain.

Providence, Rhode Island-based UNFI delivers a wide variety of products to customer locations throughout North America, including natural product superstores, independent retailers, conventional supermarket chains, e-commerce retailers and foodservice customers. The largest publicly traded grocery distributor in America, the company is No. 61 on The PG 100, Progressive Grocer’s list of the top food and consumables retailers in North America.

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