(June 25, 2:12 p.m.) MINNEAPOLIS — If you say you are green, mean it, advised Roberto Munoz, director of neighborhood affairs and communications for the El Segundo-based division of United Kingdom-based Tesco.

Speaking at a June 16 panel at the Food Marketing Institute’s Sustainability Summit, Munoz said retailers can’t fake concern for the environment or they will drive consumers away.

At the same time, Munoz said it is important to empower consumers without pushing an agenda on them.

He advised that when retailers speak about the environment and green technology, words and actions should agree.

“Make sure when you are saying something, you are saying it and meaning it,” he said.

Some of the ways that Fresh & Easy empowers consumers: The company only sells energy-efficient light bulbs, provides in-store recycling, offers hybrid parking spots, and gives the option of canvas and recyclable grocery bags.

Munoz said Tesco’s United Kingdom operation also has developed a “carbon trust” label that was introduced earlier this year for selected items.

Tesco picked 20 products in four different categories and did a life-cycle analysis of the carbon footprint of each item, some of which are private label Tesco products.

The four categories for Tesco’s current carbon trust labels are light bulbs, potatoes, washing detergent and orange juice.

Each of the 20 products in those categories has been assigned an individual score, along with the average category score so consumers can compare.

He said surveys have shown that customers like the idea of labeling, but they need help to understand and use it.

Fresh & Easy has 61 stores in Arizona, Southern California and Nevada, and Munoz said the chain will expand into Northern California in 2009.

He said Tesco also has a “green” reserve of nearly $200 million to help fund sustainability and green technologies.

“We have money we can use for innovative green technology that won’t impact the bottom line,” he said.

That allows the chain to push the envelope on technology that may not be the best business sense.

Some of the ways the chain is using sustainable practice includes plastic bins in the produce department, nightshades on chiller cases at night, reusing display packaging up to five times, investment in secondary loop refrigeration systems and LED lights, Munoz said.

Wegmans’ packaging, transportation efforts

Sustainability has many applications to fresh produce retailers, and those applications include packaging and transportation.

Wegmans Food Markets Inc. is trying to take a lead role in sustainability, Jeanne Colleluori, communications specialist in the consumer affairs department of Rochester, N.Y.-based Wegmans, said. Speaking June 17 at a perishables workshop at the sustainability summit, Colleluori highlighted some sustainability steps her company has taken with regard to packaging and transportation.

For produce packaging, she said the chain, whenever possible, is trying to switch packaging with labels of “recyclable 1” and “recyclable 2” for easier sorting by consumers.

She said store managers have been asked to take note of ways they can reduce packaging waste, which led one to suggest the company stop using wax containers for a deli item. In one year’s time, that suggestion helped keep 1 million pounds of waste out of landfills.

“It has turned an expense into revenue.”

As far as transportation, she said the chain is exploring more rail options.

“We recently brought shipments of apples from California all the way across the country by rail to Albany, N.Y.,” she said. “It won’t work for everything, but it may work for some things.”

Another way some stores are reducing waste is the use of a local composting company for waste from deli, floral and produce.

“Composting fees are generally much lower than landfill fees,” she said.

Wegmans donates food every day to America’s Second Harvest, which distributes foods to nonprofit agencies, including 16.8 million pounds of fresh food to the group in 2007.

Another way the company has created efficiency is turning off lights in stores. One store experimented by progressively turning off more and more lights in the store and found that the first customers to notice were in the grocery department because they needed light to read labels.

“There were no comments from the perishable side at all,” she said.

In just that one store, 490 lights were turned off. During the course of a year, that store will save enough energy from turning off lights to power 23 homes, Colleluori said.