Since it was founded nearly half a century ago, the Ashland Food Co-op in rural southwest Oregon has modeled social and environmental responsibility. In addition to providing sustainably grown, local, organic food, this consumer-owned grocer also strives to minimize its impact on the environment and has set a goal to become a zero-waste, carbon-neutral business by 2030.
Reducing your carbon footprint can come at a high up-front cost for any business, but the Ashland Food Co-op was able to take a significant stride toward achieving its goal with assistance from USDA Rural Development. A Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) grant of $27,000 from USDA helped offset the cost of a new rooftop solar electric system.
“The REAP grant made the project a no-brainer,” said General Manager Emile Amarotico.
Installed in 2017, the co-op’s new renewable energy system is generating about 45,600 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, which is enough to power four residential homes. It is supporting this certified organic retailer’s goal of providing leadership toward a clean energy future by decreasing its carbon emissions. It is also benefiting the co-op’s 10,000 members by reducing the business’s monthly utility bill, helping to lower operating costs.
The Ashland Food Co-op received recognition for its efforts when the National Co-op Grocers awarded it with the Co-efficient Sustainability Star for creating positive sustainability impacts. But the co-op is not done yet. “The road to 2030 will be difficult,” said Amarotico. “But we’re confident that with the support of our community and owners, we can do it.”
The co-op will keep expanding its use of renewable energy, diverting its waste from landfills, and improving its conservation practices, as it has been doing since a small group of families formed the buying club in 1971. Its new renewable energy system brings the co-op one step closer to achieving carbon neutrality, demonstrating that a rural business can prosper while also becoming a leader on issues important to the community.