Costco is a huge conundrum when it comes to sustainability. The company itself is very admirable: workers are paid and treated well when compared to other stores like Walmart; the company attempts to buy local products; and the giant warehouse stores pass on savings to consumers. Wall Street continually complains about this very moral company that pays for most of its workers’ health insurance, will not mark up items just to meet some analyst’s sales projections and is pedantic about where it locates stores so that it will not cannibalize its sales.

Costco stores embraced skylights and solar before it became fashionable; it has long worked with its supply chain to change the shape of packaging to make shipments more efficient; and has long been a model of waste diversion, recycling all those cardboard boxes you see in its spartan yet sparkling clean stores.

And yet in some ways Costco is dripping in excess and waste. Some of the clamshell packaging is still impossible to open while hideously oversized. All those deals may sound amazing until you waste that amount of food you cannot eat. And while organic and healthful products are easy to find, you can also find plenty of eyebrow-raising goods from Roundup to the worst of processed foods.

Yet the company overall is an exemplar among companies within and outside of its industry. The company continues to innovate and source more responsible products while eliminating dubious ones. And it is possible to shop there and buy nutritious food products and responsibly manufactured goods. My recent monthly trip to Costco sums up the mixed feelings I have about a company I enormously respect. Traipsing through the store in Santa Cruz, I understand the success. After all, my heart wanted the Cheez-Its, Pop-Tarts and Pepperidge Farm Goldfish. But the brain loaded my cart with Greek yogurt, hemp seeds and soy breakfast patties. The brain also managed to spend way more than I had planned. Costco is a true shopping land mine indeed.

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What the heart wants at Costco

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What the brain demands you buy at Costco

About The Author

Leon Kaye

Leon Kaye is the founder and editor of GreenGoPost.com. Based in California, he is a business writer and consultant. His work is has also appeared on Triple Pundit , The Guardian's Sustainable Business site and has appeared on Inhabitat and Earth911. His focus is making the business case for sustainability and corporate social responsibility. He's pictured here in Qatar, one of the Middle East countries in which he takes a keen interest because of its transformation into a post-oil economy. Other areas of interest include sustainable development in The Balkans, Brazil and Korea. He was a new media journalism fellow at the International Reporting Project, for which he covered child survival in India during February 2013. Contact him at leon@greengopost.com. You can also reach out via Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost). As of October 2013, he now lives and works in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.