Go Walgreens – An In-Depth Look at the Nations First Green Drugstorefor medical waste

Why Waste A Ribbon When You Can Plant A Tree…

San Diego, CA- Walgreens celebrated the opening of the nations first green drugstore yesterday not with a traditional ribbon-cutting ceremony but with the planting of a native tree.

“We felt that planting a tree was much more appropriate then cutting a ribbon and then throwing it away” said Jamie J. Meyers, The LEED AP Project architect who was there for the celebrations.

Walgreens, the nations largest drug store chain is once again changing the landscape for the American consumer, this time for the greener. The store in question was designed from the ground up around the dual mission of efficiency and sustainability. Not only is it the first drug store in the U.S. to meet the USGBCs stringent LEED design standards but the 24-hour store also sells a host of environmentally friendly products.

By exceeding LEED requirements and integrating eco-friendly product lines into their inventory they have taken steps that cannot simply be attributed to the common corporate “greenwashing”

A Serious Commitment…

With this project and future plans for many more like it, Walgreens has made a serious commitment to sustainability. Here are just a few of the things they have built into this store on the architectural side;

-Take for instance the landscaping- They used all native plants which will require no watering whatsoever once they have adjusted to transplanting. Here in San Diego that’s a pretty big deal as we are in the midst of a level two drought emergency…

-They took great pains to reduce lighting energy waste by utilizing 75% natural sunlight during daytime hours. This was achieved with the installation of solar tubes and skylights that shine down from the ceiling. This combined with LEDs in their signs and coolers reduces lighting related energy use by 50%

-They are mitigating storm water pollution from the surrounding buildings by collecting and filtering water as it flows onto their lot.

-Water use is estimated at 50% below LEED standard levels.

-75% of materials were architectural salvage from the previous structure that existed on the lot.

-A white roof was included to reduce cooling related energy use as well as to mitigate the urban heat island effect.

-There are many other green details as well, such as hybrid car parking spaces, a bike rack, and a site chosen in part for it’s close proximity to public transportation.

While other companies such as Wal-Mart and Target have made token gestures to the green movement Walgreens really seems to get it. While there is still room for further improvement, the significant steps they have taken to “go green” far surpass the typical dog and pony show that passes for environmentalism these days in many companies.

At some point the question was seriously posed- “How can we make ourselves more efficient and sustainable?” And someone took the time to find some awnsers. Yet here we find the question that all modern companies will be faced with as energy prices soar and the public becomes more aware of their own effect on the planet. Whether it’s the product they produce, the service they provide, or the goods that they sell companies large and small cannot escape the changes that are occurring in our environment. Those who don’t respond to these changes will end up like Walgreens competitors such as Eckerd; just struggling to keep up with the pack.

A History of Steady Progress

“Walgreens is making great progress on our environmental initiatives in stores chain-wide. Were cutting our electricity and water usage, recycling tons of cardboard and shrink wrap each year and upgrading equipment for maximum efficiency” Said Walgreens Market Vice President Matt Sesto

Walgreens has never been a trendy/flashy company. Quite the opposite, they are a family run All-American company with a long history of steady progress. In many cases they have been among the first to implement innovative strategies like the switch to bar-code scanning technology, and the expansion into film development in the 1970’s. They also were at the forefront of adapting a more convenient, customer friendly format in a time when drugstores were rather limited in scope. Through all these changes however they have always kept true to their identity as, “Americas corner drugstore”.

So when a company like Walgreens outlines a wide ranging environmentally friendly strategy it really means something in terms of their future intentions. As mentioned by Jim Collins (Author of ‘Built to Last’ and ‘Good to Great’) in an article titled Best Beats First;

“they (Walgreens) may be slow- following a crawl, walk, run, trajectory, but when they run, they will run right over companies that believe being first is all that matters.”

So when Walgreens tells me that they plan to build many more new green locations, as well as do additional environmentally friendly modifications to their 6,857 existing locations- I believe them. This store alone is saving enough energy to power 19+ homes a year- imagine what the combined effect will be!

Bringing Green Products “To Every Corner Drugstore In America”

Walgreens unique position as an a nationwide leader in their industry gives them the opportunity to offer and support green eco-friendly products in their vast network of 24 hour store locations. It also puts them in a position to persuade their competitors to do the same. That says nothing as to the opportunities available to them in terms of offering holistic, eco-friendly and organic health products. Again, in interest of fairness this is an area where steps have been taken…but there is still room for improvement. While certain green products have been highlighted and given prominent display positioning- much of their inventory is the same old landfill clogging…”stuff” that plagues America today.

This brings to mind the reason I decided to write this article.  Walgreens, like many other long standing companies today is in an awkward position. While they are struggling to wrap their strategy around the idea of sustainability they are still plagued with a long legacy of conventional, pollutant, unsustainable business practices. Unfortunately that is something which no company can change overnight. This problem can only be addressed through consistent long term efforts. No sweeping initiative or “change program” is going to make meaningful differences in behaviors that have developed over the course of many generations.

The good news however is that with pressure from retail giants like Walgreens, mainstream manufacturers (such as Walgreens own current suppliers) will naturally “follow their leed” and begin offering more green product alternatives. Here are a few of the product lines currently available in their Mira Mesa (SD) Location;

Healthy Times- Organic Baby Food- Definitely a worthwhile green product- especially if your sick of paying for water and starch! Organic babyfood should be in every grocery/drug store in America. I would recommend this product to any parent trying to get their baby off to a green healthy start. They have many options, all organic, all formulated to nurture children’s skin, hair, growth and general well-being. This baby food contains no refined sugars, preservatives or artificial additives.

Biofusion- This is Walgreens own brand of hair care products that incorporates natural ingredients into the formulas. No word yet as to the sustainability or social responsibility of the manufacturing process however the formulas do rely less on chemicals with too many syllables to pronounce.

Burt’s Bees- Here’s an excellent example of a mom and pop cottage industry manufacturer that grew into a nation-wide success…and is now using that success to leverage environmental progress. Not only are their personal care products naturally based (beeswax) their whole business philosophy centers around supporting “the greater good” from their charitable contributions to the encouragement of their employees personal growth opportunities.

Clorox Greenworks- This is Clorox’s brand of green cleaning products which use- in their words ‘environmentally preferable chemistry’ to achieve cleaning results similar to Clorox’s toxic/harmful flagship products. Clorox also contributes to the Sierra Club in the name of this product line. (Get Coupons Here)

Natures Source- SC Johnsons green plant based cleaning products are environmentally friendly and versatile in selection. Check out their website to find out more about these products and what SC Johnson is doing to help the environment.

WaterU- Is another Walgreens made product. A reusable BPA Free water jug that comes in a variety of different sizes. It is reusable and recyclable and it doesn’t contain the harmful BPA traces in typical bottled water containers.

So while green products have been made available in this location there is a distinct emphasis on the architectural end of sustainability.  I can imagine it is tough shifting away from long time distributor relationships however there is really no good reason why Walgreens can’t offer more environmentally friendly product alternatives for some of their top selling items.

A Green Drugstore Is A Healthy Drugstore

An often overlooked (yet very important) part of going green are the healthy decisions we can make every

day like eating right, exercising, and picking the right over the counter health products. Consider that the medical industry a major landfill and toxic waste polluter. Just look around next time your in a hospital and it’s not difficult to see why. If Walgreens can take their commitment to the next level by promoting natural and environmentally friendly health products in their stores then that would be a pretty amazing accomplishment by any environmental standard.

Going green is just as much about the lifestyle you live as the house you live it in. By extension, it is just as much about the products you sell as the building you sell them in. Sometimes that is forgotten in the world of business and industry. I hope that Walgreens is able to employ the same wise judgement in this area as they are currently practicing in the design and energy policy of their new buildings. To see pictures of the grand opening check out the my Go Walgreens article in it’s entirety!

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