Areas of Leadership
Solutions: Reduce CO2 Emissions, Raise the Minimum Wage
DRAFT Jan. 13, 2017
Unlike most businesses, the bottom line for Danielle Vogel’s four-year-old grocery store is environmental stewardship, not profit. According to Vogel, every decision that she’s made in creating Glen’s Garden Market in Washington, DC has centered on what its impact would be on the world’s climate. In fact, she decided to start the store for the specific purpose of improving the world’s climate, as she says, “one bite at a time.”
Vogel runs Glen’s with an entrepreneur’s grit and a perspective on investment that only someone committed to change can appreciate. That’s because, in a traditional sense, not much of that vision makes good business sense.
Consider her decision regarding the electricity used to power her two stores. Vogel chose to purchase electricity generated from wind turbines rather than the much cheaper power produced by coal-fired plants. Vogel explained her choice, “I consciously made a decision against my business interests because it is consistent with our value set.” What she is doing, in fact, is redefining the notion of “business interests” by incorporating environmental costs into her calculations.
With only a handful of exceptions, Vogel stocks her stores with locally produced goods specifically to reduce emissions from long-haul transportation and refrigeration. Her emphasis on vegetarian and vegan products encourages low-carb eating, a diet that generates lower emissions of greenhouse gases than the typical meat- and dairy-reliant diet.
In addition to her emphasis is on the environment, Vogel is also committed to paying her employees an hourly rate above the local minimum wage. Vogel believes in a living wage, so much so that she and her management team are considering whether they should require that their few out-of-region vendors pay their employees a living wage. Vogel recognizes, however, that such a commitment is a double-edged sword.
While the higher rate gives her an edge in competing for the top talent in the hiring pool, it also meant that she had to raise everyone’s pay when the District of Columbia increased the local minimum wage to $11.50 in July 2016, which was what her lowest paid employees were making at the time. When she raised their pay to $12.50, Vogel also had to adjust the pricing of some items to absorb a portion of the quarter-million dollars in additional annual wages. In a store that competes on quality and service, any significant increase in price risks upsetting the balance of cost and experience for her customers. Fortunately, she found areas in the store’s operations where she was able to eliminate waste and increase efficiencies so that her customers did not take the full brunt of the pay increase.
Danielle Vogel’s Glen’s Garden Market is a work in progress, an experiment that is asking consumers to accept the costs of being good environmental stewards. Her solution goes far beyond the many organizations that ask for tax-deductible contributions to support their excellent work. Instead, it dares to ask the Americans in the Dupont Circle and Shaw communities where her two stores are located to adapt with her to a set of choices aimed at sustaining the fragile environment on which our society is built. So far, the neighbors are following her lead.
George Linzer interview with Danielle Vogel, December 27, 2016, and responses to follow up questions.
Tim Carman, “The Market Trying Hard Not to Sell Out”, Washington Post, April 16, 2013, accessed January 6, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/food/the-market-trying-hard-not-to-sell-out/2013/04/15/77007b26-9b21-11e2-9a79-eb5280c81c63_story.html
Lily Oswald, “Change Makers: Danielle Vogel, Leveraging the past to Create a More Sustainable Future”, Maria’s Farm Country Kitchen, March 2, 2015, accessed January 6, 2017. http://www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com/change-makers-danielle-vogel/
Perry Stein, “A grocer raised its prices so it could increase workers’ wages. Are customers willing to pay?”, Washington Post, December 2, 2016, accessed January 6, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/a-grocer-raised-its-prices-so-it-could-increase-workers-wages-are-customers-willing-to-pay/2016/12/02/afa59c50-addc-11e6-a31b-4b6397e625d0_story.html
Small Businesses for Good, The Atlantic Small Business Forum, accessed January 6, 2017. https://youtu.be/IyfVSh4wGok?list=PLwj46yNDLyTUNDZTfJH4MnMQlfoc1uMV6
Making Progress One Bite at a Time: Danielle Vogel at TEDxGCDS, TEDx Youth, accessed January 6, 2017. https://youtu.be/jHqY5ReITqA
Lindsay Wilson, “The carbon foodprint of 5 diets compared”, Shrink That Footprint, published “early 2013”, accessed January 12, 2017.