Publix’s Sustainable Success: How a Grocery Giant is Reducing its Environmental Impact

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Founder George Jenkins in front of a Publix delivery truck
Hannah Herring

On its website, Publix has a running, real-time ticker that shows how many paper and plastic bags have been saved because of its initiatives since mid-2007. As customers watch the numbers increase exponentially (it’s currently at more than 8 billion), they can learn more about ways they, too, can focus on sustainability.

It’s just one way Publix is honoring its commitment to changing the world for the better.

Headquartered in Lakeland, Florida, Publix has been committed to responsible consumerism since the beginning. Founder George Jenkins, known affectionately as “Mr. George,” believed in being “intolerant of waste” when the supermarket was founded in 1930, said Hannah Herring, media relations manager for Publix. And it is still a part of the supermarket’s mission statement.

“Publix is committed to being responsible citizens in our communities, which includes protecting and preserving our environment,” Herring said. “This started with our founder, George Jenkins, and the commitment continues with our more than 240,000 associates today.”

Mr. George helping a customer

As of March 2023, there were more than 1,300 Publix stores across the Southeast, including 860 in Florida alone. And Publix is hoping that its customers will join them in building a more sustainable future.

In 2022, Publix released its annual Sustainability Report. The 81-page document is filled with the ways Publix is honoring Mr. George’s commitment.

“We focus on business practices that protect and preserve the environment, support our communities, and promote the health of our associates and our customers,” CEO Todd Jones writes in the opening letter of the report. “We even make an effort to help influence our suppliers to manufacture their products using sustainable practices.”

Publix’s sustainability efforts take a place of honor on its website, where an interactive section shows the countless ways—some more obvious to customers than others—that Publix shows how “green isn’t just their color—it’s their commitment.:

Publix breaks down the areas of the company by storefront, customer service desk, pharmacy, frozen aisle, grocery aisle, deli, meat and seafood, back room, produce, floral, bakery and checkout.

Director of Environmental and Sustainability Programs, Michael Hewett, announces donation at Everglades event
Todd Jones

“We are committed to helping make our environment and our communities sustainable,” Herring said. “Our business processes support reusing, reducing and recycling waste, and programs like perishable recovery where we donate unsalable, yet consumable, food to Feeding America member food banks, are just a couple of ways we lean into our commitment.”

In the Storefront, Publix highlights its greenhouse gas reduction. Each year the company conducts a yearly greenhouse inventory by collecting information about total building space, the number of kilowatt-hours it uses, the amount and type of refrigeration used in its stores and gallons of fuel used by the Publix transportation fleet. Since 2007, Publix’s CO2 emissions have decreased by 27.7%.

Recycling is one of the biggest ways Publix makes an impact. In 2022, Publix was recognized as a Recycling Champion by the Florida Recycling Partnership Foundation. Last year alone, the company recycled cardboard, plastic, paper and hard-to-recycle items, like foam, by the hundreds of millions of pounds. And it’s not just the company that recycles. With its emphasis on reducing waste, Publix encourages its customers to recycle, as well.

Publix provides in-store recycle bins and encourages the use of reusable bags.

“There are a number of ways people can take part in sustainable practices,” Herring said. “For starters, we encourage our customers and associates to use reusable bags. But for those who choose paper or plastic, we provide recycling bins so they’re properly recycled. By inspiring folks to reduce, reuse and recycle, we can make strides in doing good together and preserving our environment.”

Publix’s green commitment is a mark of the products it offers, from sustainable seafood to produce grown by farmers who also utilize environmentally friendly processes. Water conservation is also a large component of Publix’s sustainability practices, and the company has pledged to help conserve, protect and restore the Florida Everglades through partnerships with the Arbor Day Foundation, the National Audubon Society in the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in the western Everglades and the National Park Foundation to restore the saline glades in the Everglades National Park.

It isn’t just the executives who are making the move toward earth-friendly processes. Publix, recognized by the National Center for Employee Ownership as the largest employee-owned company in the U.S., involves its associates in its sustainability practices.

“Our associates come up with ideas for how to run Publix more sustainably every day,” the Sustainability Report states. “So we made it easier for them by creating an ideas mailbox for them to share their thoughts.”

From the parking lots, where extra electric vehicle charging stations are available, to the checkout counters, where customers are encouraged to take advantage of e-receipts, Publix’s mantra that “Every day is Earth Day” is a model for a company that has committed to the future by changing the present.