Sustainability: Where Do You Rank?
Quantifying your sustainable practices doesn’t have to cost you anything. It’s just good business.

by Michael Kovalycsik, National Sales & Marketing Director, Delta T Solutions

 

Lettuce
Quantifying your operation’s sustainability efforts in an assessment can be overwhelming. New metrics for the specialty crop industry will provide a set of measurements growers can use to define the performance of their practices.

How green are you? That’s the question that consumers — and by extension, retailers — are posing to growers who supply their food. And whether we like it or not, growers are having to answer these concerns by quantifying their level of green practices through sustainability assessments, certifications and a possible national standard.


The process is still voluntary, but looking at the area of food safety as an example, it’s likely that sustainable practices may one day become regulated or mandatory. For now, sustainability is market-driven among retailers, which is motivation enough for most growers to stay competitive.

Defining Sustainability
The agriculture industry has gone to great lengths to develop an acceptable definition of sustainability and, let’s face it, we’re still not quite there yet. Despite the several industry members who have withdrawn from the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) sustainability standard-writing process, regulated by the Leonardo Academy, there are many efforts underway through other entities to develop methods for measuring the performance of sustainable practices. Thus, progress toward defining and fulfilling sustainability goals within the agriculture industry is being made.

One of these efforts includes the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops (SISC). Established in late 2008 by a group of more than 30 leading growers, suppliers, buyers, technical experts and environmental and public interest organizations, the index aims to develop and share a comprehensive system for measuring sustainable performance across the supply chain.

 

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Since then, SISC has worked cooperatively to share resources with groups representing other agricultural commodities, such as the Field to Market Project addressing commodity crops (corn, soy, wheat, alfalfa, etc.), as well as the Sustainability Consortium, made up of retailers including Walmart, Safeway, Best Buy, Ahold and Marks & Spencer. However, the SISC is developing its own set of metrics specifically for the specialty crops industry, defined to include fruits, nuts, vegetables and horticulture. SISC aims to address the unique needs of specialty crop stakeholders while demonstrably improving environmental and social impacts.


Unlike the ANSI sustainability standard, which would govern sustainability via a required practice or performance score, the development of metrics aims to help growers measure their performance without imposing a required score or practice. Rather, the goal is to offer a suite of verifiable, outcomes-based metrics to enable operators at any point along the supply chain to benchmark, compare and communicate their performance — a sort of yard-stick for measuring sustainable outcomes. With a look to the future, SISC may also provide tools and resources to help specialty crop companies advance sustainability goals.

 

The Walmart Factor
To get started on your sustainability assessment, take a look at some of the questions Walmart posed to its vendors about their sustainable practices when the retailer took first steps to develop a sustainability index to measure all of the products it sells.
The questions were broken down into four different areas of concern:
1. Energy & Climate: Reducing energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions
2. Material Efficiency: Reducing waste & enhancing quality
3. Natural Resources: Producing high quality, responsibly sourced raw materials
4. People & Community: Ensuring responsible & ethical production

Assessing Your Efforts & Next Steps
Whether you are looking to identify your efforts to gain or keep a retailer’s business, you want to market your business as sustainable, or you simply want to begin an honest-to-goodness sustainability program, getting started on a sustainability assessment can be overwhelming. Many growers have dedicated one full-time person or even designated a team of employees to quantify and manage their sustainability efforts.


SISC is measuring the following parameters, grouped into three areas: People, Planet and Profit. These include:

  • People: Human resources (worker health & safety, employment practices, etc.); community (local sourcing/hiring, etc.)
  • Planet: Air quality; biodiversity and ecosystems; energy use; greenhouse gas emissions; nutrients (including related water quality issues); packaging; pesticides (including water quality issues; health & safety of workers and communities); soils; waste; water quality (includes stormwater runoff and process water); and water use.
  • Profit (improved efficiency/cost reduction will be incorporated into other metrics where appropriate): Green procurement; fair price/incentives.

Currently, the SISC is beginning an intense revision process based on feedback from the 2010 pilot testing process to develop these metrics, which included 100 pilots for 19 crops in 13 states. This will prepare the first cluster of metrics for public comment by April 30. With this timeline, the goal is to have an initial set of SISC Working Metrics available for public use by July. Work on metrics still in development or continuing in the pilot phase will continue at that time.

For more information on the Stewardship Index For Specialty Crops, visit www.stewardshipindex.org.

 

 
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