For firms, many roads lead to sustainability

01/25/2013 11:10:00 AM
Jim Offner

Produce industry plans to achieve sustainable operations appear to be varied, but they seem to have one thing in common: Each company’s efforts has to make sense for that particular operation.

“We all want to do the right things, but it has to make sense — and make cents,” said Tony Freytag, chief executive officer of Cashmere, Wash.-based tree fruit grower-shipper Crunch Pak.

Sometimes the two go hand in hand, he said, citing a shipping scenario as an example.

“If you can reconfigure the way a truck is loaded to get more selling units on that truck, the freight per item is reduced, the carbon footprint is being reduced, most likely,” he said, noting that it also reduces cardboard usage.

Keeping track

It also makes sense for a company to track its progress toward sustainability goals from year to year, said Ron Cotterman, vice president of sustainability with Elwood Park, N.J.-based packaging company Sealed Air Corp.

“Companies leading in sustainability understand and report on key sustainability metrics,” he said.

Providing this data is important for two reasons, Cotterman said.

“First, metrics provide proof of the progress companies are making on internal efforts to reduce waste, energy, GHG emissions and water,” he said.

Such environmental metrics not only bring important economic benefits to companies through cost savings but also enhance their brands and reputations when compared with other organizations that claim to be sustainable, but cannot quantify or support that claim, Cotterman said.

“Second, sustainability leaders recognize that true sustainability benefits come from looking across the supply chain, rather than solely at their place in it,” he said.

Packaging

It’s a holistic approach to understanding where a company’s raw materials come from, as well as where and how its products are ultimately used, and it provides useful insight into the overall value that a company creates in the marketplace, he said.

“In the case of packaging, for example, it is not uncommon for a packaging investment to result in a return on investment of at least tenfold through reduction of downstream costs and/or waste,” Cotterman said.

Matt Jacobs, president/owner-partner of Chicago-based Pallet Wrapz Inc., said the industry’s drive toward sustainability provided the inspiration behind the creation of his company two years ago.

“What we’ve done is come up with a product that can eliminate a lot of plastic stretch film going to the landfill,” he said.


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