United Fresh sustainability tool draws attention - The Packer

United Fresh sustainability tool draws attention

09/12/2013 02:46:00 PM
Tom Karst

If there are questions about what sustainability is, it is no surprise there are even more questions about how to track it.

For the produce industry, measuring sustainability isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach.

The Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops is expected to release new information on sustainability metrics soon. With that in mind, California Citrus Mutual President Joel Nelsen said he believes the Sustainability Guide and Self Management tool released by the United Fresh Foundation in June deserves a closer look.

“All of us were in there trying to come up with a template that would work for the entire supply side so we could avoid the plethora of audits, demands, mandates, suggestions that were coming forth,” Nelsen said. “Everyone is going through a minimum of three to four food safety audits; you don’t need three to four sustainability audits.”

Nelsen has heard concerns about the Stewardship Index and other standards, and believes the United Fresh sustainability tool has not yet received enough attention as a possible harmonized approach. “I think it is something the produce industry should grasp and run with,” he said.

Nelsen worries metric-based measures of energy or chemical use could become an “easy target” for those who are unaware how the pressures change in producing a commodity.

“Now is the time to make this document relevant again, and it is an opportunity we shouldn’t miss,” Nelsen said.

United Fresh Foundation’s Center for Global Produce Sustainability created the tool. Bayer CropScience provided a four-year grant to create the center. The sustainability tool is available online,  free to United Fresh members and $75 for non-members.

Nikki Rodoni, director of sustainability for Gills Onions/Rio Farms and chairwoman of United’s Center for Global Produce Sustainability Advisory Board, said she would like a group of growers in different growing regions use the tool for a whole season.

“It is a great tool for people who haven’t established a sustainability program,” she said. “It is very practice-based and it is a self audit to understand what sustainability looks like.”

The tool may eventually use metrics to measure sustainability, but for now will stick to the practices-based approach, said Ray Gilmer, vice president of issues management and communications for United Fresh.

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