Discussion around sustainability within the agrifood sector is shifting from the rhetorical question of “what is the definition of sustainability?” to the nuts-and-bolts of “how” to make sustainability relevant to day-to-day business operations.
The fact that market leaders in all segments of the agrifood supply chain are deeply engaged in sustainability initiatives is a clear sign that the sector has crossed the tipping point from sustainability as a curiousity to an increasingly accepted business strategy.
Leading commodity and fresh produce trade associations and their members have invested in a number of national efforts, including Keystone’s Field-to-Market initiative with a primary focus on commodity crops, and the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops.
These two initiatives are important for focusing on outcome measurements.
Here is where we get to the four “P’s” of Sustainability: Principles, Practices, Process and Performance.
For over a decade, sustainability has been defined as the three “E’s” — economics, environment and equity; or the three “P’s” — people, profit and planet.
However, these “P’s” and “E’s” don’t offer much insight into how to get from principles to actual performance. Once a company decides they believe in (or can live with) the principles … then what?
Starting from the supply chain first mile of agricultural production, the reality of a crop season is uncompromising. There is little time to debate nuances when planting time comes. Operations are largely driven by time, weather and the application of resources within the science and art of farming.
In the manufacturing and service sectors, there has long been the saying that “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” This means that one first needs yardsticks (or metrics) to measure progress and then the ability to deploy practices, grouped into business processes, to manage effectively.
Here is where the concepts of “best practices” and “business process improvement” were born, and today they drive management strategies in many business sectors.
I wish I could claim some leading edge innovation for combining the four “P’s” of Principles, Practices, Processes and Performance to business management. The fact is that the Fortune 100 and 500 companies have been doing it for a long, long time.