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Whole warehouse gone green
Mike Hardy, the facility team leader at Whole Foods Market’s regional distribution center in Braselton, stands in front of the center’s compost bin. The facility off Ga. 124 has enacted several environmentally friendly initiatives, including including composting, recycling, planting a garden and using solar powered energy. - photo by KATIE DUNN

BRASELTON — When it comes to “going green” in the business world, Whole Foods Market is on top of its game.

Standing atop a grass-covered hill off Ga. 124 in Braselton, the 114,000-square-foot regional distribution center doesn’t look like your typical industrial building.

Instead of a white-washed exterior met by sprawling asphalt, a wooden façade with picture windows and a small waterfall feature greet visitors.

A cluster of peach, apple and fig trees zigzags along a narrow, gravel walking path that parallels the building’s front. At the orchard’s terminus, a garden filled with squash, radishes, tomatoes, potatoes, corn, watermelons, herbs  and cucumbers abuts the parking lot, all planted and cared for by the center’s 113 employees.

The food grown here will either be used at one of the center’s cookouts or donated to a local food bank.

The water that helps nurture these plants comes from a rainwater retention system operated by the center for irrigation purposes.

Together, the garden, orchard and water system all fold into Whole Foods’ mission of embodying an environmentally friendly company, according to Mike Hardy, the facility’s team leader.

“We’re good stewards of the environment,” he said. “We recycle, we compost, we conserve and reuse as much as we can.”

Founded in Austin, Texas, the first Whole Foods store opened in 1980. The company now has more than 270 stores in North America and the United Kingdom, selling natural and organic foods.

The Braselton distribution center opened about 14 months ago and serves 18 stores in Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee, said Hardy.

One of nine distribution centers, the Braselton facility, said Hardy, is like the “Taj Mahal” compared to the other centers in terms of the building and layout.

The center’s interior encompasses the green theme as well with solar power energy running its hot water heater and monumental sign lighting.

Recycled materials were used in a portion of the center’s structure, including steel, carpeting and concrete used on the center’s truck pads.

Aside from its structural components, the center also reuses its food products.

Any food not sold in stores returns to the distribution center where it is composted, turned into mulch and then resold at stores or to local Whole Foods’ vendors.

This, said Hardy, helps the company “complete the circle,” from buying produce from farmers to recycling leftover foods to reselling that food as mulch to help future crops grow.

“Whenever you can do that with recycling and composting, that’s great,” he said.

The center also features motion sensing lights, faucets and toilets, LED lighting, lead-free paint, biodiesel trucks and plenty of windows for natural lighting.

Together, these energy-saving and environmentally friendly initiatives help Whole Foods embrace its natural roots.

“You just don’t see warehouses like this very often,” said Hardy.