( The Packer )

Helping companies measure and expand their sustainability efforts is the career hyper-focus of Nikki Rodoni, founder and CEO of Measure to Improve LLC.

“We are a sustainability consulting firm that is committed to helping the produce industry collect, report, validate and communicate their sustainability initiatives,” Rodoni said. 

“It’s really about helping the industry take a proactive approach to sustainability so that it doesn’t become dictated in a way that doesn’t make sense, or is cost prohibitive.” 

Before founding Measure to Improve in 2014, Rodoni was director of sustainability for Gills Onions from 2007-13 and held the same title at Rio Farms LLC from 2013-14.

One industry leader who has worked with Rodoni says she brings passion and experience to sustainability.

“She has a unique perspective since she has grown up being on the supply side of the produce industry,” said Cindy Jewell, vice president of marketing at Cal Giant, Watsonville, Calif.

“Nikki’s enthusiasm to make a positive difference is contagious,” Jewell said. 

Rodoni can recall precisely when she first became engaged with sustainability years ago when she was part of the marketing department at Gills Onions, which is owned by her family.

“We were sitting in a meeting and somebody said something about sustainability, and I leaned over to my dad (Steven Gill), and I said, ‘What does that mean?’” Rodoni said. 

“He said, ‘I don’t know. But go figure it out.’”

In her quest, she first talked with people within Gills’ vertically integrated operation.

“I went out and talked to the general manager of farming operations, the general manager of facilities, and what I found out is, everybody had a different definition of what sustainability (was) and nobody could really define it,” she said.

Even searching for agriculture companies practicing sustainability came up with few good examples.

Rodoni then searched outside agriculture, calling on Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., which had been in the news for its sustainability efforts with fuel cells.

Cheri Chastain, then sustainability manager for Sierra Nevada Brewing, gave Rodoni some ambitious goals around zero waste, reporting of greenhouse gas emissions, and the concept of closing the loop with waste.

That knowledge and further research by Rodoni soon contributed to Gills Onions’ decision to invest in systems that turned waste into energy. The company soon had initiatives for zero waste and was a founding member of the Climate Registry, a voluntary group of companies that collect and report greenhouse gas emissions.

After being director of sustainability for the processing facility, Rodoni developed a sustainability program for the company’s farm. In 2011, she started the Monterey County Sustainable Working Group. 

Rodoni eventually developed a vision of how she could help other produce firms beyond Gills Onions and Rio Farms. Rodoni wants the industry to act on sustainability with a sense of urgency, because there will be more demands from buyers and customers coming.

“(Measuring and acting on sustainability) is an industrywide problem, and if we don’t take a proactive approach to this, then it’s going to be dictated (to us),” she said.

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