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How an Ontario grocer turned zero waste into profit


Valérie Leloup and Sia Veeramani in the Nu Grocery store

The people behind Canada’s small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) play a big role in what gets built, bought, shipped and stocked on store shelves. If you’re a business owner, this means you also get to decide what gets recycled, reused and hopefully, never thrown away.

If you’ve ever wondered what you could do to reduce the amount of waste that gets created up and down your supply chain, you can learn a lot from Valérie Leloup, co-founder and CEO at Nu Grocery, a runner-up in the 2022 Meridian Small Business Big Impact Awards.

Having built her business on a zero-waste philosophy, it’s Valérie’s opinion that reducing waste is both urgent and essential in a world where we have to reduce our environmental impact as quickly as possible. “To reduce waste in homes, the workplace and industry, the answer comes down to everyone making small changes in their own world. And that can lead to government policies and corporate action plans. And that’s how we start to change everything,” she says.

Here’s some advice from Valérie that every business owner can use to join in the fight against waste.

Believe that zero waste is possible

Valérie knew very little about the “zero-waste revolution” before she read a life-changing book on the subject, Bea Johnson’s Zero Waste Home, a gift from her mother. She hadn’t imagined that she and her business partner Sia Veeramani would become experts and consultants on the subject or that she would become a role model by starting a zero-waste grocery store. Yet all of this happened because she saw the potential for a better and profitable way of doing business.

Work with other waste-conscious people

Nu Grocery, like many small businesses in Canada, is part of the circular economy, a way of making and consuming goods with materials that don’t end up in landfills because they get reused within the system. Delivering products in ecofriendly containers, reusing bulk packaging, and minimizing transit time are all prerequisites for suppliers who want to sell to Nu Grocery. “Like-minded businesses don’t see this as a hurdle. They see it as an opportunity to be on the right side of a positive trend,” says Valérie.

Think local

Working with local suppliers, whenever possible, has the immediate effect of reducing the pollution from transportation. It also means that suppliers who take back and reuse containers are spending less energy moving them back and forth.

Hire for passion and focus on retention

Finding good people is tough at the best of times. Today’s tight labour market makes it acutely challenging and Nu Grocery has an innovative approach. They believe that being small can be a big advantage when it comes to offering employees the kind of work/life options they want. For example, offering five days’ pay for four days of work gives their employees more time off to enjoy a better quality of life and helps retain top talent.

Get inspired

Check out the finalists in the 2022 Meridian Credit Union Small Business Big Impact Awards and see how they’re making a difference.

Add ‘refuse’ to the three ‘Rs’

We’ve all heard the advice, Reduce, Re-use, Recycle. The Nu Grocery team thinks everyone should add Refuse to the list. “It’s amazing what happens when you simply refuse to buy or accept wasteful things. There’s always an alternative and when other people see the demand for waste-free solutions, they’ll start offering them.”

Get started in just one hour

According to Valérie, one of the best things you can do when you’re short on time (and every entrepreneur knows what that’s like) is to simply examine the waste that gets created in your workplace. “When you stare at a pile of waste and begin to sort it out,” she says, “it’s very easy to see the low-hanging fruit, meaning all the stuff that could easily be recycled, composted or simply eliminated.” This kind of informal audit is the first step on a path toward zero waste.

Small Business Big Impact Awards

Know a business that's making a difference in your community? Nominate them for the 2023 Meridian Small Business Big Impact Awards.

Learn more about good business practices

Why helping your community is good for business
3 low-cost strategies to make your business more sustainable
3 ways smaller businesses make a bigger impact

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