Aldi USA is doing better while getting bigger.
There’s no denying Aldi’s growth ambitions: It’s the fastest-growing U.S. grocery chain, according to Progressive Grocer, and aims to have 100 new stores up and running in the U.S. by the end of 2021. And there’s little doubt about Aldi’s commitment to corporate responsibility — limiting waste and ensuring ethical sourcing of its products and the materials that go into them.
Aldi opened its 2,000th store in the summer of 2020 and is pushing to have 2,500 stores by the end of 2022. It’s all part of a $3.4 billion program launched in 2017 to expand operations across the United States.
It’s not a growth-at-any-cost effort for the privately-owned chain.
Indeed, Aldi is the most sustainable U.S. chain-store brand, according to the website Brightly.eco, which connects consumers with earth-friendly products. Brightly ranked Aldi (in order) above Whole Foods, Target, Kroger, Costco, Walmart, and Trader Joe’s. Aldi also topped a list of climate-friendly supermarkets prepared by the Environmental Investigation Agency, an NGO that advocates for environmental causes.
“Aldi has a responsibility to protect the environment, and we know it’s an important priority for our customers,” said Jason Hart, Aldi’s U.S. CEO. Aldi announced its sustainability charter In March 2021. These are the charter’s goals through 2025:
The refrigerators that keep food safe for consumption and the power plants supplying electricity to stores are well-known sources of greenhouse gases. Aldi already has solar panels on more than 100 stores and a dozen distribution centers and plans to add them to 60 more stores by the end of 2022. The chain also is ensuring that its U.S. warehouses and almost 400 stores use natural refrigerants, which dramatically reduces the environmental impact of refrigeration.
Empty shipping cartons pile up quickly in a grocery chain. Aldi aims to reduce the environmental footprint of operational waste by sending as much waste as possible to recycling centers for paper, metals, plastic film, corrugated cardboard, and other materials. The chain also aims to reduce food waste by one-half by 2030. In 2020, Aldi USA gave local food banks more than 29 million pounds of products, ensuring the goods didn’t end up in landfills.
Aldi acknowledges the challenges of dealing with low-cost, durable plastic packaging materials. “The global impact of plastics can’t be ignored,” Hart said. “We can’t get rid of plastic everywhere, but we can continue to work to eliminate plastics anywhere we can.” Aldi’s unique business model uses primarily store-branded goods, which gives the company substantial control over packaging. This will be central to the charter’s goal of converting all Aldi-exclusive packaging to reusable, recyclable, or compostable materials by 2025.
Aldi’s sustainability charter also aims to expand the chain’s sustainable-coffee sourcing program and to continue the sustainable sourcing of cocoa and seafood.
At a glance, the sustainability charter might seem ambitious for a chain that built a business model on a simple, economical shopping experience that delivers the basics in compact, easy-to-navigate stores. And the charter could look like a foot on the brake for a fast-growing company.
Then again, it’s hard to imagine anything more thrifty and growth-friendly than saving the planet’s precious resources for future generations.
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