JULIE INGEBRETSEN ON SUSTAINABILITY AND RECYCLING EFFORTS
“I’ve been obsessed with reducing waste for as long as I can remember. Where that came from, I’m not sure…concern for the planet – pretty basic stuff!” -Julie Ingebretsen
AT THE STORE
At Ingebretsen’s Nordic Marketplace we recycle everything we can get our hands on. We’ve been recycling paper for as long as that service has been available. Before the city provided ways for combined recycling at commercial addresses, Julie would bring home newspapers, metal, and glass to be sure it would be recycled properly.
As you can imagine, a retail operation accumulates a *lot* of packaging with incoming product. We try as hard as we can to save and reuse packaging, both in the shop and in our shipping department. Our shippers are experts at identifying what could be used again or in new ways to get our outgoing items packed up safely. It’s a place for creativity and innovation, and one customers appreciate.
“It’s astounding how many plastic bags are in this industry – it’s insane and unfortunately unavoidable. We collect all of our plastic and pay a little to have it recycled. Thankfully there are still places that will process it. As soon as we could, about 5 years ago now, we added commercial composting. So now we don’t throw away very much, which is great! There are a few hard to recycle things I still take home. Those things get recycled through a business that picks up right from my house.”
That organization is Ridwell– they work with local partners to create avenues for recycling items that the city program is not able to- including styrofoam, lightbulbs, batteries, plastic bags and many other things that would find their way to the local incinerator. They don’t offer a commercial service yet but our fingers are crossed tightly that that is around the corner!
Recycling has been a healthy habit for Julie for a very long time, but that didn’t come from her parents. “Recycling wasn’t a thing then, there was very little need because of the frugal way we lived our lives” says Julie. Her parents were of the generation that saved everything. Reusing items was a way of life. “My mom used to wash her Saran Wrap and dry it on the side of the refrigerator,” remembers Juile. As convenience took over the retail market and items were packaged to last, the need for a solution to waste grew. Getting the WW2 generation on board was a challenge, but one worth pursuing. “It was me teaching them as time went on. They were totally open to learning and now recycling is a way of life. I’ve instilled the importance of that, and reducing waste from the start, in my children as well.”
SOURCING SUSTAINABLE, REUSABLE, AND RECYCLABLE PRODUCTS FOR THE STORE
There are multiple ways sustainability comes into consideration when we source new products for the store. Buyers at Ingebretsen’s are trained to look at products critically- considering how a product is made, shipped, and where it comes from. Our goal is always to fill our stock with products whose impact we can feel good about.
“(Scandinavian cultures) are so hyper aware of the importance of recycling and sustainability- much more than we are here. It’s kind of hard to find something that originates in Scandinavia, either by design or production, that isn’t sustainably made. They place a very high value on ethically made products- and that feels good.”
There are times when items in our product line are made using common production methods, for example, our waffle irons. Julie shares- “A product that heavy takes a lot of energy to produce and ship, so to compensate for that we look for a few key qualities in products that aren’t identifiably sustainable:
- Is this a good product that will last a long time? Something that won’t break easily and have to be thrown away.
- If it’s a household product like dishes, is the design one that’s going to last? Or is it a trendy pattern that’s going to be out of fashion next year?
- If it does eventually have to be thrown away can it be recycled, composted or disposed of in a safe way?
These are rules to live by for us, both at work and in our homes.
WHAT’S THE MOTIVATION FOR SUSTAINABILITY AND RECYCLING EFFORTS AT INGEBRETSEN’S?
In a tearful response, Juile says, “Every year this feels more urgent. We all need to think about how things are going to be in 50 years. Maybe my generation will be gone, but our kids and grandkids will be here dealing with all that we leave. It’s not all about bottom lines and convenience.
One thing that’s kind of cool about the place we are right now as a business is people who come here (Ingebretsen’s) often don’t come here because it’s convenient, they seek us out. This is not a convenient location for a very many people. I fear that we as a society do so many things because it’s convenient- for example, ordering online so we don’t have to go anywhere. We have a wonderful customer base who come because they believe in what we do and want to support that. It’s really wonderful, and it’s important to do this for all businesses that align with our values.”
Julie says, “I hope our efforts have a little bit to do with us still being here after 100 years. Some of this is behind the scenes-not really something a lot of people are aware of.”
But, more and more people are aware and are paying attention. Julie hopes customers and friends of Ingebretsen’s can see that the products we have were brought in with intention and as folks shop, even if it’s subconscious, can tell we are thinking about how our business impacts the world around us.