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The Packer: Groups Work with Growers on Sustainability

Tom Karst

With retail interest measuring supplier sustainability growing, two groups have formed a partnership that aims to standardize performance metrics at fruit, vegetable and nut growing operations.
The Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops and The Sustainability Consortium  plan to work together on projects to encourage stewardship and sustainability, according to a news release from the groups.
The groups have been working over the past few months on how to implement the metrics, said Christy Slay, senior research manager for The Sustainability Consortium. The Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops developed metrics that the consortium also uses for its toolkits for produce.
Slay said March 2 the groups have developed a spreadsheet featuring consortium metrics for key performance indicators that some retailers are using.
Wal-Mart and Royal Ahold have pilot projects using some of the key performance indicators with their produce suppliers, she said. 
Royal Ahold is debuting the metrics with some of it Dutch produce suppliers, she said, while Wal-Mart is working with suppliers in the U.S.
“We’re utilizing their feedback to improve the guidance that goes along with the key performance indicators,” she said.
Slay said the launch of metrics-based key performance indicators is an important milestone, she said.
Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops performance measures include water use efficiency, energy use and nitrogen use. Metrics under development include biodiversity and ecosystem, and greenhouse gas. The Stewardship Index is conducting a pilot project in 2015 and 2016 with growers of leafy greens in central California. Participants include:
  • Church Brothers
  • Taylor Farms
  • Western Growers
  • ProAct and
  • Compass Group.
The leafy green pilot project is in the beginning stages. said Hank Giclas, senior vice president at Western Growers, Irvine, Calif.  Giclas said some retailers are looking for more specific information on sustainability while others want just general information. 
“The (retailers) engaged with the Sustainability Consortium are moving toward more specific and performance-oriented information,” he said, citing Wal-Mart as one example.
“We know Wal-Mart is moving toward more specific information,” he said. 
Giclas said he believes the leafy greens pilot will be beneficial because it will be the first larger pilot for sustainability metrics in the fresh sector.
“We’ve only had a few companies here and there engaged with it and provided feedback during the developmental progress but we have a larger group put together now,” he said.
Slay said the consortium will provide valuable feedback on how metrics are being used in the leafy green pilot project and what the experience of the growers is like.
“Hopefully we can make sure the transfer and aggregation of data is as easy as possible for growers,” she said.