Sustainability must make a business case - The Packer

Sustainability must make a business case

05/04/2012 09:33:00 AM
Greg Johnson

Greg Johnson, EditorDALLAS — When sustainability metrics come to the produce industry, I have a strong suspicion they will be tilted more toward business and less toward environment.

That’s not a criticism, nor is it bad for the produce industry.

Growing fresh produce is one of the most sustainable businesses already, although environmental groups are working hard to convince consumers otherwise.

The produce business runs mostly on small margins and economies of scale, so cutting out inefficiencies and waste is good business.

It wasn’t the No. 1 topic of conversation at United Fresh 2012 in Dallas May 1-3, but it’s still on everyone’s minds.

The day before the expo started, a United Fresh committee met on sustainability standards, and while nothing was resolved, attendees said it was productive (it was not open to the media).

Burleson Smith, vice president of environmental affairs and sustainability for United Fresh, said May 2 that the issue remains unsettled.

He said the industry knows it must be flexible with its standards and not just invite more audits.

A May 2 workshop aptly titled “Sustainability in the Real World” touched on how produce companies can make sustainable practices part of efficient business.

Nikki Rodoni, director of sustainability for Gills Onions, and United Fresh sustainability board chairwoman, talked about the company’s award-winning onion waste-to-energy program, which we’ve written about before.

“Sustainability starts with a good business case,” she said.

That’s the heart of this issue for the industry.

Tim York, president of Markon Cooperative Inc., Salinas, Calif., is among the most prominent industry leaders who have worked in developing the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops, and he has said many times that sustainability metrics must be specific, measurable and verifiable.

But he also told The Packer in late April that rules must help “growers to understand how to use various metrics and benchmark their progress in a reasonable and practical approach to not only improving sustainability, but enable cost-reduction initiatives that can enhance on-farm profitability.”

Profitability isn’t a word that was prominent in the Leonardo Academy’s latest sustainability report.

It may have been in there, but is anyone really expected to wade through 395 pages to find it? I did my best.

The Madison, Wis.-based group released the latest draft of the report after its April 24-25 annual meeting. It’s what one would expect from environmentalists and academics, although a little less idealistic that previous versions.

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mass  |  May, 17, 2012 at 10:42 AM

Though I'm not opposed to sustainability generally speaking, I agree that the environmentalists and big government officials that listen to them for political advantage, are either clueless about the ag industry or don't really care about the potential economic damage these laws and regulations in the name of saftey and environment could and are having on the ag industry that by default practices sustainability in order to cut cost and make any profit at all. They feel the need to be involved in every aspect of everyone life wether warranted or not. Just a big waste of time and money.

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