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Executive Chairman Galen Weston, of Loblaw Companies Ltd., speaks at the company's annual general meeting in Toronto.NATHAN DENETTE

Galen G. Weston has become a familiar face to Canadians, touting cloth shopping bags rather than plastic ones in television ads for Loblaw Cos. Ltd. . The executive chairman's pitch seems to be paying off: The grocer diverted 1.3-billion plastic bags from landfills last year, beating its goal of one billion.

The environmental initiative may frustrate some Loblaw customers who now have to shell out for plastic bags to line their garbage pails. But the chain's push to do the right thing in an array of corporate social responsibility areas helped it snag the top score in the Corporate Knights CSR survey.

View the full rankings in a downloadable table

Mr. Weston's personal commitment to corporate responsibility has played its part in bolstering the chain's CSR rankings. Since taking the top job almost four years ago, the 37-year-old scion of the Weston family that controls Loblaw has focused on putting more discipline into the retailer's social-responsibility efforts. It now releases an annual CSR report, with the third one having been issued last month.

"He sees it both as a responsibility and a point of competitive advantage," says Bob Chant, vice-president of corporate affairs who heads the CSR file.

The bottom line for Loblaw is that reducing waste helps the country's largest grocer to save millions of dollars annually, he says. And it can anticipate more savings. The chain has yet to reach all of its targets, including diverting 70 per cent of its overall waste from landfills in 2009. Last year, it diverted 58 per cent of it, according to its latest CSR report.

"The patchwork approach to waste management that we're facing in some jurisdictions makes it pretty difficult to hit a 70-per-cent target," Mr. Weston says.

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In other areas Loblaw overshot its objectives. It reduced refrigeration leaks by 22 per cent, and greenhouse gas emissions linked with those leaks by 28 per cent; it had planned in 2009 to lower refrigeration leaks by 5 per cent.

The grocer introduced five new President's Choice green products in 2009, bringing the total to 44, including a barrel to collect rain water. The company says it is on track to decrease its use of non-recyclable packaging on its private-label products by 50 per cent in five years.

And it's set to implement one of its major policies by the end of 2013: carry seafood that is all sustainable and approved by the Marine Stewardship Council.

Loblaw has also focused on bolstering diversity among its staff, as well as products for new Canadians. Last year, it boosted the number of female store managers by 53.7 per cent from a year earlier.

More from Report on Corporate Responsibility:

  • Few Canadian companies disclose environmental practices
  • Corporate Social Responsibility governance practices rankings
  • Why Loblaw takes top honours for corporate social responsibility
  • In pictures: Top 10 corporate do-gooders
  • In pictures: Corporate Canada's 10 green leaders and laggards
  • Bombardier ranks No. 1 for environmental practices
  • Discussion: How green are Canada's leading companies?
  • Methodology: How the marks were determined
  • Corporate social responsibility by the numbers

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