With the help of a think tank made up of Southern Oregon University students, Albertsons on Wednesday got on the "green-sustainable" fast track, celebrating a grand reopening with lots of organic food, green drinks, LED lighting — and no plastic bags.

With the help of a think tank made up of Southern Oregon University students, Albertsons on Wednesday got on the "green-sustainable" fast track, celebrating a grand reopening with lots of organic food, green drinks, LED lighting — and no plastic bags.

Students from two SOU classes — sustainable leadership and studies in corporate sustainability — have been working with Albertsons to evaluate the store's new green strategies and to document the story of its shift to environmental citizenship, said SOU senior Chris Mitchell, who is in charge of developing data for the project.

Instructor Steve Schein says students have been pioneering the new science for four years, interviewing 75 major corporate CEOs and developing specific measurements of improving sustainability by mapping exactly how much water is saved, how much food waste is diverted to compost, how many fewer kilowatts of power are used and how much less solid waste is put into landfills.

Over time, Schein said, the system will be put into thousands of stores owned by Super Value, the parent company of the Albertsons chain, "transforming the corporation from within so it integrates sustainability, using the Ashland Albertsons as a case study to help them tell the story."

Wednesday's celebration included a performance by the Ashland High School Dance Team and many samples of fresh-made green juice and other organic treats.

Mayor John Stromberg told about 200 attendees that such projects "increase the quality of living here and that attracts the best businesses to locate and keep employees that want to live in a good atmosphere where corporations are responsible to the environment."

Pete Pearson of Boise, Idaho, True Value's corporate director of sustainability, also attended the event. He said the entire chain is already installing LED lighting in ceilings and display cases and putting doors on previously wide-open refrigerator units, starting in "communities where sustainability is very important to the people, such as Ashland." The simple shift to LEDs cuts power usage for lighting 70 to 90 percent, Pearson said.

Ashland store director Paige Vaughan showed off the increased shelf space for organic and gluten-free foods, many of them locally grown — and noted the store's goal of keeping the price of organic items not more than 20 cents a pound over conventional produce.

Organic food was plentiful and marked with green tags in both fresh and frozen areas. Organic dairy products now occupy eight feet of refrigerator cases. Organic eggs, juices and grain products are also offered, sale, with two cases of gluten-free products.

The store's remodel over the past several months also includes a fresh soup, salad, juice and sandwich bar, although those are not necessarily organic, Vaughan said.

Lillia Rodriguez, corporate communications director for the Albertsons chain, based in Southern California, said stores are installing fuel cells, which generate electricity from natural gas and oxygen, in case of power failures.

The store last month announced the end of plastic bags effective Wednesday, noting the huge amount of non-degradable waste they add to landfills. The market still uses paper bags and sells cloth market bags to shoppers.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.