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Sustainable Food Lab: Using Sustainability Measurement and Reporting Tools to Engage with Producers


Hal Hamilton

02/01/2013

Using Sustainability Measurement and Reporting Tools to Engage with Producers

A few years back, newsletter articles like this one focused on the state-of-the-art sustainable agriculture tools, metrics and indicators. Then, as multiple tools were developed, the focus turned to harmonization and alignment. Today, we turn our focus to the emerging uses of these tools. As tool development and sustainable sourcing programs mature—often in consort—a wide range of approaches, objectives and outcomes are emerging. Consider a few examples:

General Mills has been working with Field to Market and Syngenta on using measurement tools to reach beyond a focus on just one crop. Starting with wheat in Idaho, they’re considering the entire rotation and going beyond measurement to engage with growers and deliver tools that promote implementation of better practices. As a result of this large-scale and widespread work, the company is poised to be able to make an environmental claim in the market, certifying not the individual farms but the whole landscape— on water quality, water quantity and soil loss.

Unilever has embedded The Cool Farm Tool (CFT) in its Sustainable Agriculture Code, as the requirement for its GHG metric. This applies to all fruit and vegetable suppliers globally. In 2012 Unilever assigned the CFT at the supplier level, requiring suppliers to complete one CFT per crop, using a representative of their farmer base. As of January 2013, the company has assigned the CFT at the farm level. When suppliers are sourced by hundreds of farmers, a random sample of at least 30 farmers is required per supplier, per crop.

In a relatively short time, Unilever is reaching over 10,000 farms globally and has deployed a team of people internally as well as the company’s sustainable agriculture software partner to help with the effort. The data will be used to compare crops and regions and gain an understanding of how to help farmers reduce GHG emissions.

H.J. Heinz has created its own Global Good Agricultural Practices Manual. This document summarizes for growers the key agronomic, food safety, worker health and environmental categories they must pay attention to in order to maximize the health and productivity of their operations. Thus the company is emphasizing education and engagement over measurement.

In Colorado, a fresh market potato packer/shipper used the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops (SISC) suite of metrics to look at the sustainability profile of a new potato variety in a particular region with a number of their grower suppliers. Through a comparison with metric results from fields growing traditional varieties, they were able to determine that the new potato variety had lower nitrogen and phosphorous input requirements, lower irrigation requirements and higher yields while delivering acceptably on quality and taste requirements. This comparison proved to be of great interest to their buyer showing how collaboration and communication around SISC metrics can benefit members of a value chain and provide consumers a more sustainable product.

Similar to Unilever’s “Sustainable Agriculture Code” and H.J. Heinz Good Agricultural Practice Manual”, Pepsico is bringing out a “Sustainable Farming Initiative” looking at multiple sustainability indicators. Pepsico’s Initiative includes water and carbon among other indicators. As part of this initiative, the company is rolling their Cool Farm Tool work out to all their UK potato growers with a goal of 100 percent participation this year. Other crops this year include oats and corn in Spain with many more crops and regions to follow. Similar to Unilever, each supplier must get a significant sample of growers.

This data is then used both to enable growers to understand their footprint as well as to help the company develop carbon management plans to help farmers reduce emissions. Pepsico is also using the tool to understand major hotspots and compare country-to-country, crop-to-crop.

For many initiatives, carbon is seen as the entry point to further sustainability discussions. Often the initial goal is benchmarking current performance for the purpose of on-going measurement and continuous improvement.

McCain Foods has used the Cool Farm Tool to establish region-specific greenhouse gas baselines for their potato supply. In the process, they’ve adapted the Cool Farm Tool and with Dr. Jon Hillier and Dr. Anton Haverkort, created a potato-specific version using input from farmers in 33 regions and 15 countries including countries as remote from each other as China, North America, India, Poland, New Zealand, and South Africa, among others.

Heineken’s plans for their Cool Farm Tool work include establishing regional/crop benchmarks for the purpose of facilitating farmer conversations—initially on carbon and then moving from there onto wider issues sustainable agriculture issues. The goal is to use the Cool Farm Tool as a factual starting point from which to approach fertilizer choice and usage and weigh the synergies and trade-offs between environmental and supply chain values.

The biggest returns from these projects to improve sustainability performance come from engagement among producers so they can share their decision-making process with one another and explore potential sustainability innovations.

When Sustainable Food Lab staff helped assess Costco Wholesaler’s entire organic egg supply nationally, the value of the exercise came to the fore when the growers all got together. They had used the Cool Farm Tool to benchmark and motivate GHG emission reductions. When they were all in the same room—two years in a row—they created an innovation incubator, talking through options for feed, transport, and energy reduction as well as carbon.

We see these kinds of benefits when we combine quantitative farm-level assessments with in-person meetings. Rather than feeling forced to comply, the growers see the benefits of learning from using the tool: correlating management decisions with greenhouse gas reduction impacts and trying out “what-if” scenarios on their own operations. With the rest of the supply chain in the room and factored into the aggregate analysis on paper as benchmarks, growers gain motivation and ideas for ways to reduce emissions (housing innovations, feed ration adjustments, construction of local feed mills). Crucially, the meetings serve as a natural opportunity for growers to share and discuss better management practices of all kinds.

The SFL/SAI Platform Summit will continue this conversation in a workshop entitled: The Nuts and Bolts of a Successful Sustainable Sourcing Program. Here, Steve Peterson of General Mills, will kick off interactive identification of opportunities and barriers to sustainable sourcing, including using calculators and other tools for a sustainable sourcing program.

We hope you’ll join us.