Whole Foods switches to renewable energy

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Whole Foods Market, the American health food giant which is opening a flagship store in London next year, has become the first major US company to convert all of its energy to green sources.

The move will cut carbon dioxide emissions by the same amount as taking 60,000 cars off the road for a year or planting 90,000 acres of trees to absorb the gas, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. Whole Foods, the largest health food chain in America, has chosen wind power as its preferred source of renewable energy but cannot link its system directly to wind farms because they supply power directly to America's national electricity grid.

The company will instead continue to use power from the grid but will buy wind energy credits to cover 100 per cent of its projected energy use for 2006.

Producers of renewable forms of energy sell credits through brokers. The proceeds help offset the additional cost of generating electricity in a way that is kind to the environment rather than by burning fuels such as coal.

Whole Foods is best known in the UK for its Fresh & Wild organic chain. It plans to open a Whole Foods store in the former Barkers department store building on Kensington High Street in London next year.

The company, which started life as a single store in Austin, Texas, would not say how much it would cost to convert its administrative offices, supermarkets and kitchens in the US and Canada to wind power.

A single residential property in the US must pay about an extra $15 (£9) a month to convert its electricity to wind power. Such a large consumer of energy as Whole Foods would be able to negotiate a competitive deal.

The move is a bold decision by a corporation in the US, where businesses are under less pressure to comply with environmentally friendly standards than in Europe because America refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol on reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

Quayle Hodek, the chief executive of Renewable Choice Energy, a wind power lobbying group, said: "Americans care about energy and, when the federal government is not doing what it ought to, it comes down to personal choice. Whole Foods' leadership should spur lots more companies to do something similar."

Several large US companies such as Johnson & Johnson and Starbucks have invested substantially in renewable energy credits, but Whole Foods is the only Fortune 500 company to buy credits which cover all of its power consumption.