The loudest voices are not the most productive

News
Feb 8, 2013
by WLJ

Sustainability means a company’s responsibility to its stakeholders, and this goes beyond transactional relationships with customers and consumers, suggested Joe Forsthoffer, corporate communications manager of Perdue Farms. Accepting this responsibility, he said, and pledging greater transparency and accountability often exposes a company to greater risk. Among these risks is the possibility consumers will not buy a product, but it is necessary in today’s environment.

Forsthoffer offered these perspectives during his industry perspective presentation “Bridging the Sustainability Gap Between Industry and Consumers” at the Animal Agriculture Sustainability Summit held during the 2013 International Production & Processing Expo.

The components of Perdue’s sustainability program include helping consumers prosper with flexible, forward-thinking solutions for agriculturally-based products, being responsible stewards of natural resources, being a responsible employer and member of the community, and responsibly contributing to economic stability.

The key constituencies with which the company interacts in this program are consumers, customers, employees, farm partners, communities, and shareholders.

The approach to each will be different, since they are unique constituencies, not one aggregated group, Forsthoffer noted. He also urged the industry to reach out to groups who want to work with them, and to choose wisely.

“The loudest voices are not the most productive voices,” he said, explaining that some activist groups are more interested in “making noise” than in talking to you. Others, though, want a genuine dialogue which means that companies have to listen to these stakeholders rather than regard communication as a one-way marketing effort.

By the year 2050, the world’s population will increase by 2 to 3 billion. Food consumption, particularly of animal protein, will rise significantly along with this population growth. However, current consumption patterns cannot be sustained long-term in the face of this population explosion, and industries, companies, and individuals must figure out how to do more with less, according to Bryan Weech, director of livestock agriculture for the World Wildlife Fund.

“In the next 40 years, we will have to produce as much food as has been produced in the last 8,000 years,” said Weech, who addressed Why Sustainability Matters. He added that 33 percent of the planet is currently used to produce food, while 24 percent more will be needed given current projections of population growth. This trend is unsustainable, Weech continued, “We are eating the planet.”

In the Embedding Sustainability in Business panel discussion, Dennis Treacy, Smithfield’s chief sustainability officer, discussed Smithfield’s sustainability council, formed by the company’s board of directors that reports regularly to that board. This ensures that sustainability initiatives are a highly visible priority.

Treacy remarked that a durable sustainability program must involve all of a company’s employees, challenging them to find ways to make the company better with ideas that will also repay the effort, for instance by saving money through a reduction in water use or electricity consumption.

Dr. Michael McCloskey, CEO, Select Milk Products, provided information on the dairy industry’s Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. The center created a council that drew up a series of initiatives to reduce dairy’s carbon footprint 25 percent by the year 2020. To help understand the impact of food production on the environment and on people, the innovation center launched a research program, first reviewing secondary and tertiary research and then conducting primary research.

One outcome of the research effort was determining the impact, in terms of greenhouse gases, of producing a gallon of milk.

Cargill realized about five years ago that sustainability was important to maintaining its large, international business operations and has adopted a set of basic sustainability values. The challenge now is to go beyond that accomplishment and address sustainability in ways that are more specific to particular brands or customers, according to Mike Mullins, vice president of corporate affairs.

Sharing the company’s experiences and lessons learned, Mullins also suggested that his business and others in the agriculture industry should try to establish better relationships with their customers so that they can be in on discussions about subjects, such as changes in their product or menu line-up that could affect sustainability. — WLJ

{rating_box}