A Surprising Leader in Sustainability

This article is part of our Rising Stars Portfolios series.

When you envision corporate sustainability initiatives that even Greenpeace could love, Safeway (NYSE: SWY  ) probably doesn't spring to mind as a frontrunner. But believe it or not, the conventional grocer recently won first place on the environmental organization's annual ranking of supermarkets' seafood sustainability initiatives.

"Carting Away the Oceans," Greenpeace's annual seafood sustainability report, ranked both Target (NYSE: TGT  ) and Wegman's at No. 2. Whole Foods Market (Nasdaq: WFMI  ) , which recently launched detailed seafood sustainability initiatives, came in at No. 4.

Safeway discontinued the sale of "red-listed" or unsustainably caught fish, such as orange roughy. It's also involved in fishery restocking initiatives and advocating for the Ross Sea to be designated as a marine reserve.

Big, well-known retailers Costco (Nasdaq: COST  ) , Trader Joe's, and Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT  ) lagged with 11th, 12th, and 13th place rankings, respectively. As far as the major laggards go, Greenpeace called out Winn-Dixie (Nasdaq: WINN  ) and Meijer as "disinterested and irresponsible companies," and SUPERVALU (NYSE: SVU  ) and Publix for being unwilling to discuss their plans or stop selling red-listed species.

Greenpeace has often made major waves about seafood sustainability. It's previously launched successful campaigns against Trader Joe's ("Traitor Joe's") and Costco ("Oh, No, Costco") to press for improvement of their seafood buying practices.

Costco recently revealed that it will no longer sell a dozen types of fish deemed unsustainably farmed by the Marine Stewardship Council. Greenpeace lauded the retailer for its impressive progress since the "Oh, No, Costco" campaign in its recent report.

My Rising Stars portfolio is designed with socially responsible factors in mind, and sustainable business practices are a major plus. Good companies should realize that ruining marine ecosystems could destroy a major sales channel over the long run. If we deplete seafood populations, then a major part of the $31 billion seafood industry will sleep with the poor fishes.

When even supposedly old-school, "conventional" companies such as Safeway compete with one another to do the right thing, we're all better off. In its press release regarding the Greenpeace ranking, Safeway said it's "making corporate social responsibility part of the fabric of the company and a strategy to deliver a competitive advantage," and outlined initiatives including recycling, renewable energy initiatives, and becoming a founding member of The Sustainability Consortium.

Three cheers for Safeway for bringing sustainability to an unexpected place. Here's hoping for a future where investors will find socially responsible businesses the rule in their portfolios, rather than the exception.

This article is part of our Rising Star Portfolios series, where we give some of our most promising stock analysts cold, hard cash to manage on the Fool's behalf. We'd like you to track our performance and benefit from these real-money, real-time free stock picks. Click here to see all of our Rising Star analysts (and their portfolios).

Costco and Wal-Mart are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. Costco and Whole Foods are Motley Fool Stock Advisor picks. Wal-Mart is a Motley Fool Global Gains recommendation. Wal-Mart is a Motley Fool Income Investor selection. Motley Fool Options has recommended buying calls on SUPERVALU. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on Wal-Mart. The Fool owns shares of Costco, SUPERVALU, and Wal-Mart. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Alyce Lomax owns shares of Whole Foods Market. For more on this and other topics, check back at Fool.com, or follow her on Twitter: @AlyceLomax. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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  • Report this Comment On May 02, 2011, at 1:04 PM, Ulenspiegel101 wrote:

    Any views on major drop in WFMI shares today?

    Tx U

  • Report this Comment On May 03, 2011, at 4:53 PM, TMFLomax wrote:

    I noticed that drop recently Ulenspiegel101, my only thought is negativity (I think I noticed an analyst downgrade or two, the idea that inflation's hitting their core customer). However, inflation's going to hit everybody; I think WFMI's customer is more insulated than, say, Wal-Mart's core customer. Just my two cents. WFMI will report its latest quarter later this week, so it should be interesting to see how things are going right now given the current conditions.

    Best,

    Alyce

  • Report this Comment On May 03, 2011, at 6:30 PM, TripleEFocus1 wrote:

    Alyce, love your reporting. Must just say that a sustainable emphasis in the seafood dept doesn't make Safeway a leader in sustainability

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