PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Green is a color often associated with grocery stores, both for the fresh produce sold there and the money that it takes to buy goods. But the color also is significant for two Aroostook County grocery stores recently recognized by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection for reducing their effect on the environment.
Graves Shop ’n Save in Presque Isle and Paradis Shop ’n Save in Houlton were certified late last month by the DEP as Environmental Leaders during brief ceremonies. They join Edwards’ Family Shop ’n Saves in Unity and Dover-Foxcroft as the only state-certified green grocers north of Waterville.
Their efforts to reduce their carbon footprints were entirely voluntary, according to the DEP.
The Environmental Leader program is a self-guided process offered by the department as part of its pollution prevention efforts. The initiative encourages lodging facilities, restaurants and grocers to consult a DEP developed workbook to implement improvement programs that help them earn points toward certification.
Grocers can earn points for such practices as adopting and posting an environmental policy, selling a percentage of local and organic foods, installing energy-efficient refrigeration equipment, having a posted anti-idle policy in delivery bays and educating patrons about the store’s green initiatives.
Don Samiya, store manager of Graves Shop ’n Save in Presque Isle, said Monday that the grocery store started implementing changes last October.
“We were already doing some things to cut down on our electricity use and other things,” he said. “But the DEP gave us a number of new ideas that we quickly implemented, such as putting up signs to remind our delivery drivers to shut off their trucks while they are loading or unloading. One of our biggest changes was replacing the bulbs in the frozen food cases with LED lights. We have saved quite a bit on electricity costs.”
The store also has made equipment changes so that units that once ran continually can be shut off to save on electricity. Graves’ also sells local and organic food and hosts a local vendor day each fall to showcase area growers, uses environmentally preferable cleaning chemicals and has eliminated Styrofoam packaging for to-go orders.
Samiya said that one of the easiest changes that has really caught on was the store’s decision to sell reusable tote bags to consumers. The inexpensive, machine washable bags have been popular with customers, according to Samiya.
“They have really caught on, and I think every day you see more people carrying them in and less people carrying out plastic or paper,” he said. “They also can hold more groceries than the plastic bags.”
Graves has placed signs and decals throughout their store to remind people about the tote bags.
“We also buy a lot of produce and other foods from local growers,” he said. “That is something we have done for some time, and people are paying more attention to locally grown and organic foods.”
Businesses seeking certification submit their completed workbook to the DEP for review and certification approval. They must increase their point total to be recertified after two years.
Nick Archer, northern Maine regional director for the DEP, helped the grocery stores through the process.
Patty Aho, DEP commissioner, is proud of the Environmental Leader program because it encourages businesses to join the department in focusing on its core priority of protecting natural resources and ensuring a sustainable economy.
“Grocers who participate are seeing significant energy cost savings that are leading to increased profitably, allowing them to invest in infrastructure improvements and expansion of their work force,” she said. “And by selling locally sourced food, they are also helping to grow the businesses of those local producers, too. This program is yet another example of what is good for the environment being what is good for the economy.”
In Houlton, Paradis Shop ’n Save also has installed energy-efficient lighting throughout the store, including in its refrigeration units. They also market and sell the reusable tote bags and recycle paper, cardboard, plastic and metal waste. Like the Presque Isle store, they encourage delivery drivers to shut off their vehicles to avoid unnecessary idling through signage placed in loading and unloading zones. The Paradis store also donates food to a local pantry and gives nonsellable meats to an animal refuge. The store also has installed water-conserving fixtures in the rest rooms, something that the Presque Isle store is looking to mirror.
Samiya said employees have embraced the practices the store has taken to reduce its environmental impact.
“They are turning off lights in the bathrooms and break rooms when they are not in use,” he said of the between 80 and 100 employees who work at the store. “I hope that the tips and practices that they pick up at work are being carried out at their homes as well.”