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S’More Kelly Stevens and Whole Foods Market? Sure!

Written by in Profiles


Want s’more? You betcha. Yimay Yang took this great photo.

When it comes to sustainable education and living practices, Whole Foods Market (WFM) knows how to roll. The company believes in selling the highest quality natural and organic products, engaging their customers, keeping “team members” happy, building communities, profit through sustainable growth and win-win relationships with its suppliers. Its procurement powers lends muscle to support small suppliers, building the organic and natural marketplace and changing the way communities think about how food is procured and what they eat.

It is no wonder a woman like Kelly Steven likes her job there. She is now Regional Art Director at  WFM and has been a graphic designer there for 8+ years.  The company’s values and action mirror her own. She speaks of the company using the prepositions “us” and “we” without hesitation. She feels that she is a organic part of the Whole Foods family, mission and story.  And this is coming from a vegetarian who practically grew up on a coastal Texas sail boat who uses grey water to irrigate her garden and spices her language with the kind of pepper that has made Texas tongues as famous as Texas independence. Don’t Mess with Kelly.

“Whole Foods Market built its reputation on sustainable practices. It is ingrained here in so many ways. It is part of the daily lives of those who work here — I composted my lunch leftovers in our office yesterday. Folks here have big hearts for anything green. Sure, we started ahead of most. But more importantly, I hope that many more see that sustainability has made us successful. I want them to chase us — the more the merrier on the green wagon.”

From her viewpoint in the design department, Kelly says there is a lot she and her team is doing — and a lot more they will do.  In packaging Kelly and her team look to develop sources that create less waste, are recyclable and/or compostable. She adds, “when designing, the waste, recycling, composting is always a design criteria.” Large-format items such as in-store displays, banners and the like are sourced, tested and to ensure they are made of recycled and/or recyclable materials. If they do not meet the standard, they design team looks for alternatives. Printers and other partners are expected to be on the lookout for any new, greener materials they can find and bring to WFM’s attention. Store interiors use repurposed materials such as snow fencing (found in Montana) and wooden bleachers salvaged from a Houston dance hall. Such effort delights customers, she says: “We get a lot of compliments; they tell us they get inspiration for their own homes from the green ideas they see on display here.”


Yes, it’s that time of year again. Unfortunately.

Kelly Stevens helped established the brand standard that all printed materials must be made of 100% recycled paper with 30% post-consumer content or higher. She looks for sustainably harvested papers as well as sheets with higher post-consumer content. For 10 years, WFM has only printed with vegetable inks. Their loyalty with one local printer led it to completely switch over to such inks: “We give Ginny’s Printing a ton a of work. When they realized that it was actually more trouble to clean the presses and switch to the petrol inks, they switched over to veggie inks bringing all their clients to veggie ink printing. I love that our buying power can have that kind of effect on an entire business community.”

Growing up sailing, Kelly’s first dream was to be a marine biologist. After enrolling at UT in Austin, she entered the art department. From there she met legendary professor Dan Olsen who told her “I’m going to each you how to solve problems through design theory.” Since then, she has dedicated her career to design that reduces the impact of man on Earth. And while she was always “green,” sustainability is now her chosen way of life.

“Five years ago, I came back from a design conference with one big idea: always ask yourself, ‘does this thing have the right to exist?’ I was amazed how this perspective could change your approach. You suddenly realize what you can do with little or none at all. It has led me to change, others as well, like our printer and paper supplier. My mom called the other day and I said,  “Mom, I think I’m a tree hugger.” I’m soooo excited about our single-stream recycling system in Austin. I have a compost garden. I buy green cleaning supplies. I am upset with stores near my house that don’t offer recycled paper goods. I wake up in the morning knowing that I help sell organic milk, that I make greener choices, that I am angry about GMO corn! I feel connected to the world around me.”

We asked our tree-hugging friend if she could convince everyone in the world to take one green step, what would it be? “I’d like to get them to use only recycled toilet paper. Everyone needs. It would make a huge difference. It’s cheap. It’s the right thing to do.”

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