(Photo: Austin, Texas based Whole Foods, a premier seller of organic produce and other eco-friendly goods)     

By Teresa McUsic     

Whole Foods Market is more than just organic and natural groceries and products.

The Austin-based grocery chain of 315 stores, including eight stores in North Texas, also has a generous spirit, donating 5 percent of sales to nonprofits.

Among its philanthropic efforts is the Whole Planet Foundation, which provides funding for micro-lending across the world where the Whole Foods Market sources products. So far, the foundation has committed more than $26.5 million and disbursed more than $15.5 million to microfinance partners in the U.S. and 50 developing countries.

In a five-week campaign in March and April, Whole Foods shoppers added to the foundation’s commitment, donating more than $5.5 million to the Whole Planet Foundation. The money will aid more than 180,000 through microloans. Shoppers donated at the store checkouts, online at the Wholeplanetfoundation.org website and through in-store fundraising efforts.

North Texans were among those contributors, said Karen Lukin, a company spokeswoman.

“Shoppers in North Texas have really big hearts when it comes to understanding poverty,” she said. “Here there are ways to get help if you fall through the economic cracks. The foundation works in places where there is no help when people need it.”

Last month, the Whole Planet Foundation and BlueAvocado partnered to launch a “Make Change. Not Waste.” mobile iPhone application that rewards Whole Foods Market shoppers with coupons for green lifestyle actions (as we mentioned briefly in a previous Weekly Green Roundup right here on Green Source DFW).

The app provides Whole Foods Market customers with badges and coupons from a catalog of 45 green lifestyle behaviors such as using a reusable bag, recycling, or biking to work. The website also rewards users for learning more about issues related to impoverished communities around the globe, such as reading Muhammad Yunus’ Banker to the Poor, a book about microfinance and the battle against world poverty.

“Everybody loves a new toy,” Lukin said. “The app provides a way to access this information easily so people are more likely to use it.”

After completing 10 green actions, the customer can unlock one of more than seven coupons from leading green brands including: Nature’s Path, Alexia Foods, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, Stonyfield, Frontier Co-op and Organic Valley. If they choose, customers can donate a percentage of the coupon value back to Whole Planet Foundation.

“Whole Planet Foundation is excited to work with BlueAvocado to inspire shoppers to find easy ways to protect the planet, track their green choices and fund poverty alleviation projects around the world,” said Philip Sansone, president and executive director of the foundation. “Through this mobile application, shoppers will be able to help create a better future for our planet and to invest in making a real difference for the planet and their global neighbors.”

Started in 2005, the Whole Planet Foundation partnered with Yunus, a Nobel prize winner, and his Grameen Trust to invest more than $3 million in microfinance projects in Latin America and India. Since then, the foundation has expanded to include other MFI organizations such as Pro Mujer, Adelante and others. By the end of 2011, grants from the foundation have enabled microfinance institutions to extend loans to almost 200,000 microentrepreneurs with loans averaging between $149 to $229.

You can downloard the "Make Waste. Not Change" app here: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/make-change-not-waste/id516384696?mt=8

Teresa McUsic is an Arlington-based writer focused on consumer, environmental and health issues for a number of local and national publications. Her column, The Savvy Consumer, appears in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. She can be reached atTMcUsic@aol.com.