This series of case studies demonstrate practical examples of how SFTA Members execute on the SFTA declaration areas. By highlighting the work of companies with strong systems in place, we encourage wider adoption of sustainability practices and encourage transitioning companies towards sustainable business models.
Sustainability Leadership in Action: OGC’s Supplier Accelerator Program
Committed to Supplier Success
Eugene, Oregon based OGC is a leading distributor of organic produce in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. Even from afar, their commitment to their suppliers is apparent through a variety of lenses. OGC works with over 300 vendors – and some of those represent 100s of small-scale farms. 31% of their total produce purchases are sourced regionally— between Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and British Columbia.
Perhaps even more telling, one of the company’s Five Sustainability Goals is: “Achieve on farm sustainability and small/medium farm viability.” True commitment to this goal is clear when one considers the variety of services that OGC provides specific to individual growers needs throughout their supply chain. For example:
- Product Marketing: OGC has created the LADYBUG brand and retail-ready packaging to represent Northwest growers. These materials improve consumer recognition and drive demand via use of produce stickers, boxes, and other branding materials.
- Packaging Supplies: Providing packaging supplies for producers not only creates a uniform look for the brand, but it also obtains bulk discounts on supplies that are passed on to growers.
- In-House Packing: Performing in-house packing of small fruit such as blueberries – a service that saves individual producers thousands of dollars of infrastructure investment.
- Policy/Advocacy: OGC advocates for the tools, inputs, research and resources organic growers need to be successful. This includes informing organic growers of proposed National and Regional organic policy changes and legislative actions that might affect their operations; collecting grower feedback and personal experiences through outreach and surveys to determine how such changes will affect them; and then providing a conduit for growers’ voices to be heard. This latter step is taken by presenting their input in written and oral comments on their behalf.
- Crop Coordination: Ensuring OGC supply availability and reducing over-or-under-supply risks to growers through collaborative planning and volume commitments when appropriate.
Supplier Accelerator Program
As if these services weren’t already a commitment to supplier success, OGC has taken its commitment a step further by launching its Supplier Accelerator Program (SAP) in 2015. The vision for OGC’s SAP is to create lasting changes in the organic supply chain that advance the values of opportunity, partnerships, and health. The program was developed to execute projects that mutually strengthen OGC / farmer partnerships and performance capabilities in an evolving organic market.
Just a few of the SAP projects launched since the start of the program include:
- Compliance Labeling: Understanding how to label products correctly is a tricky business. Many standards and best practices exist around how to correctly label produce so it is transparent and traceable and meets all applicable regulatory requirements. OGC’s SAP has developed resources for growers that explain and provide examples of what labeling should look like, and what information that is required. OGC also provides “ready-to-go” labels for growers that don’t have the resources to develop or print their own.
- Grower-Handler Online Resources: OGC recognizes the tremendous and diverse pressures that create demands on growers’ time. To assist growers they created a web portal that strives to streamline the time spent on investigating and meeting some of those demands. The portal provides a single location to access critical grower resources such as produce standards, food safety requirements, labor requirements, and tools for succession planning.
- Production Partnership: The presence of OGC growers in the Northwest inspired OGC to work with a leading organic certifier in the Pacific Northwest — Oregon Tilth – to reduce certification fees. For producers who frequently work on small margins, this is a significant bottom-line assist.
These efforts have resulted in initial and long-term, direct and indirect benefits throughout OGC’s values-based supply chain. OGC’s Supplier Accelerator Program has provided support from efficiency and economic savings for growers to simplified processes in OGC’s facilities, and enhanced customer service.
Congratulations Organically Grown Company on being such a bright Leader for Sustainability!
Annie’s Organic Commitment: Growing Organic Acres, Mitigating Climate Change
In the spring of 2018, General Mills announced a strategic partnership with Gunsmoke Farms, LLC. The agreement? To convert 34,000 acres of conventional (non-organic) farmland into organic-certified acres by 2020. Of these acres, over 3,000 acres will be dedicated to the planting of pollinator habitat. These acres will be used to grow wheat for Annie’s pasta products—including its signature—Mac and Cheese.
Why It’s Important
Other than helping to secure a steady, high quality supply of wheat, several other benefits will result from this agreement. First, organic farming practices help battle climate change. Many of the practices inherent to organic production (i.e., crop rotation, cover crops, and compost use) are associated with improving soil health. Healthy soil helps plants draw carbon into the soil. And through photosynthesis, plants turn CO2 into nutrients that are used to feed soil life. This leads to greater biodiversity in our soils and helps keep that carbon in the ground! Finally, pollinator habitat helps reduce erosion, and creates an environment for bees, butterflies, and other pollinators critical to our food supply.
How They’ll Get There
Healthier organic soils don’t just happen overnight. General Mills has partnered with Midwestern BioAg (MBA) to help develop specific soil rotations that incorporate legumes along with wheat to help build soil nitrogen (a critical fertility element). They will also provide mentorship to the farmers and operators on these 34,000 acres to help them optimize the organic and regenerative practices the soil needs to grow healthier – including no till, cover crops, and more.
All in all, this is a groundbreaking and impressive program! Annie’s/General Mills has found a way to radically grow the implementation of organic and climate-mitigating practices without having to invest in buying acres of land. Through farmer and advisor partnerships, consumers will be enjoying millions of pounds of wheat by 2020. We look forward to hearing more about this great project as it grows.
Viva Tierra’s “Greener” Cold Storage Facility
The project? A cold storage facility close to its orchard that can help significantly increase the quality of its imported fruit. The challenge? Refrigerants (used in cold storage facilities’ refrigeration systems) constitute one of the primary contributors to climate change. Additionally, the amount of energy used to keep a facility refrigerated is substantial. To help answer this challenge, rather than build a standard cold storage facility of metal and concrete, Viva Tierra is committed to building a “Greener” cold storage facility.
Innovation in Design
As seen in the drawing, the most notable feature is the climbing Boston Ivy. The ivy will both serve as a sink for carbon as it grows, and provide insulation from the hot afternoon sun. This will lessen the energy demand to maintain a cool temperature, and ultimately lower the refrigerant needs in the facility.
Solar panels are also planned to be a key part of the design, which can be used to power lighting and other administrative aspects of the facility. To help keep the building cool and lower power needs, the primary windows are north-facing to allow in light but avoid direct rays of the sun.
The refrigerant used is R-507, which is a non-ozone depleting, azeotropic blend of HFC refrigerants R-125 and R-143a. It is non-flammable, non-toxic and has a safety rating of A1. Despite the stability and above average safety rating of this coolant, proper system maintenance to prevent leakage into the environment remains a top priority.
Initial operational data indicates that energy and refrigerant consumption may be as much as 8% lower than a conventional design.
Topping it Off: Social Impact
This “greener” design is being developed and built with the help of a local engineer, architect, and construction crew. So, in addition to helping mitigate climate change impacts, the facility is bringing in financial income to the local community. The facility will also have a larger capacity than what Viva Tierra’s own orchard will require. Regional fruit growers will be able to use this storage facility — improving the quality of their own fruit, and likely improving their income— while ensuring a lower environmental impact compared to resources used by neighboring facilities.
After the green design is built, we look forward to checking in with the “greener” facility in Chile to see how it has turned out, and what results have been seen! In the meantime we’ll be sure to report back to you on other great innovations from Viva Tierra and other SFTA members – Organic Leaders for Sustainability!
Clif Bar & Company prioritizes partnerships with companies that share its sustainability values including the use of green power in manufacturing. Read why they earned two EPA awards for their supply chain partnerships.
SOURCING: FAIR TRADE
Wholesum Harvest has seen incredible results with their fair trade program. Read why and how the decision to implement a fair trade program was made, and the impressive results to date.
Be sure to check back often, as we will be posting new case studies periodically!
On the surface, it may appear that the Northwest’s largest organic produce distributor, Organically Grown Company (OGC), has nothing to do with animal practices. After all, they distribute fruits and vegetables… Right? This pioneer in the organic food industry would never settle for the status quo.
Organically Grown Company launched Northwest-grown, LADYBUG Brand produce in the early 1990s, requiring growers who pack in the brand to be certified organic; a fairly cutting-edge requirement at that time! In 2010, in keeping with their intention to “push the envelope,” OGC made the decision to also include Salmon-Safe as an attribute of LADYBUG Brand—to go Organic and Beyond. Organically Grown Company has actively supported dozens of Northwest regional farmers in achieving Salmon-Safe certification in this effort. Nearly 100 varieties of these growers’ products can be found packed in OGC’s trademarked LADYBUG brand, which currently represents more than 30 family-owned and operated, organic and Salmon-Safe certified farms located throughout the Pacific Northwest.
Salmon-Safe is a non-profit organization/certification dedicated to protecting watersheds and natural biodiversity by working with farmers, vineyards and land developers to promote the preservation of healthy habitats on their lands where native species like salmon can thrive for future generations. LADYBUG farmers share in this dedicated commitment to watershed stewardship and biodiversity protection.
CLIMATE CHANGE AND AIR EMISSIONS
Rice is the most heavily consumed staple on earth, and its production has been identified as a major contributor to methane emissions—one of the two most potent greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Recognizing that the production and processing of rice, with its rice hull byproduct, can be a major methane emission generator, Lundberg Family Farms (LFF) has been tackling its impact on climate change through multiple efforts.
One of those efforts involves incorporating straw and cover-cropping around its headquarters in Richvale, CA, to help incorporate and sequester carbon into soil. They also support the California Rice Commission and its proposal for the sale of carbon offsets by farmers who incorporate GHG reduction practices. Diverting rice byproduct into new, non-food based markets both reduces emissions and waste. Towards this goal, rice hulls are sold for animal bedding to the local agriculture community and broken rice is typically sold for livestock feed. Another effort incorporates both government and educational institutions to break new horizons.
In 2011, Lundberg Family Farms began supporting research at the local community college in Oroville, CA. Rice hulls and straw were initially donated to a motivated group of students researching alternative building materials in 2011. After receiving an initial grant from the EPA that same year, this successful project has resulted in two trips to Washington DC to present findings to the EPA; currently they are researching if this new material can be manufactured on a commercial level.
DISTRIBUTION AND SOURCING
Beyond distribution, efforts to deepen sustainable impacts are seen through how SFTA members leverage their supply chain. Local and regional economies are bolstered and greenhouse gas emissions curtailed by local sourcing efforts. In fact, 34% of all members’ ingredients/products are sourced locally or regionally (usually a three-state spread). Even more, 82% of SFTA members source products that are certified through fair-trade! Among other things, fair-trade means that workers are paid a fair wage, are provided holidays, vacation, and break time, and have safe working conditions.
Hudson, Wisconsin based distributor Ciranda makes great efforts to ensure its supply chain creates positive impacts. 57% of the products they purchase are fair-trade certified. But beyond just buying fair-trade products, significant efforts are made to create deeper supply chain partnerships that influence social and environmental progress. For example, Ciranda works with its vendors to understand, sign and implement the SFTA Vendor Code of Conduct. Eckhart Kiesel, Vice President of Business Development and Sustainability, led an SFTA Supply Chain working group in 2015 and 2016, which developed a sustainability questionnaire for food suppliers in developing countries. The questionnaire gauges the current state of key supplier sustainability awareness and progress.
All of these efforts have influenced sustainability to take root in Ciranda’s supply chain, in such far-flung nations as Brazil and Thailand. First, Ciranda’s reputation as an ethical buyer preceeds itself; frequently quality producers and processors are ready to implement social and environmental initiatives to attract and retain a relationship with Ciranda. Ongoing supplier efforts are impressive and include:
Thailand: Ciranda’s starch producers have farmer groups that are organized in a fair trade /ecosocial chapter. The farmers grow tapioca roots for Ciranda and process them into starch, which ultimately creates a lot of waste water. As a result, the manufacturers have installed contained, rubber, inflatable lagoons covers which trap methane gas from the waste water fermentation process. That methane gas is used as fuel for the energy intensive starch production process and covers between 55-75% of manufacturers main energy needs. The remaining waste solids from the process are then diverted to an onsite compost program for local tapioca farmers who supply the facility to use on their own farms. One other benefits to farmers include use of fair-trade premiums to purchase farming equipment (i.e. tractors, trailers, tools, etc) for production of crop rather than being saddled with debt that normally small farmers would incur in order to purchase and own the equipment needed to do their work.
Since its inception, Guayakí’s mantra has been “Driving Restoration, Driving Markets.” Its business model is based on promoting the cultivation of yerba mate under the cover of trees – both native rainforest as well as hardwood species that are helping to reforest South America. This provides income for the farmers who grow and harvest the mate, and connects them as stewards to their land. Guayakí works to secure partner farmers in Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. Once a farmer agrees to partner with Guayakí, they provide technical advice and education on how to create nurseries, manage the organic production process from cultivation through harvest, and then buy what they produce. The farmers, in turn, must provide a living wage and fair working conditions, as well as restore the land to its original shaded, biodiverse state. Through this process, Guayaki and their partner farmers build a relationship of co-participation; one marked by processes of mutual development, sharing of dreams, challenges, and opportunities. This horizontal relationship is how Guayaki can guarantee organic production in balance with efforts towards sustainability, healthy communities, biodiversity, and the empowerment of cultural identity. These restorative actions, built from the spirit of co-creation, have resulted in 61,183 acres of Atlantic rainforest protected from deforestation as of December 2014.
Emeryville, California based Clif Bar not only sources 100% green energy for its headquarters, Clif is also dedicated to growing responsible energy use in its supply chain. In 2014, Clif Bar announced its “50/50 by 2020” initiative, aimed at getting 50 key supplier facilities to transition to at least 50% green power for their electricity use for ingredients, packaging, products and services by 2020. The program was recognized by the White House for its demonstration of leadership in renewable energy. To date, six supply chain partners have made commitments.
GOVERNANCE AND COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT
Viva Tierra Organic, based in Mount Vernon, bolsters its local and national community in a variety of ways. Food donations are of primary focus. All distributors end up with product on their hands – in this case produce— which for one reason or another is not salable (i.e. overripe or cosmetically damaged). Viva Tierra donates their unused produce to food banks, soup kitchens, and other charitable organizations. In the last reporting cycle they donated over 250,000 pounds of produce across the country!
But beyond this, Viva Tierra goes a step further by partnering with multiple institutions to promote education and job skills training. Viva Tierra Organic has worked with Job Corps to provide work-study experience for young people enrolled in the US Department of Labor’s long-running successful educational and vocational training program. Viva Tiera also partnered with Washington Vocational Services and their local high school. In this arrangement, Viva Tierra provided life skills training opportunities for students. This program brought developmentally disabled students, along with their job coaches, to their office for hands-on training on clerical tasks and how to work in an office setting. This went so well that in the last reporting cycle, a part-time office assistant position was created for a young man who had worked in their office as a student volunteer through the Sedro-Woolley Adult Transition Program for three years while in high school. After graduating from high school he was excited to become a paid employee, utilizing the skills he gained as a participant in the program. What a unique and wonderful way to contribute to the community!
One such example of a strategic, mutually beneficial long term relationship is seen between Bridges Produce and one of its “Grower Partners” – Rico Farms. Rico Farms is located inland from the Sea of Cortez in Mexico, and completed their first full season as Fair Trade USA certified during the 2014/2015 reporting period. Fair trade programs include a requirement that a premium from the Fair trade price is given back to the supplier to be used on projects that will benefit the workers.
During 2013/2014 season Bridges sold 405,720 lbs. of Fair Trade USA product which was 4% of their total crop, and generated $8,121.80 in fair trade funds. In the 2014/2015 reporting year, Bridges sold 2,471,365 lbs. of Fair Trade USA produce which was 17.13% of their crop, resulting in $66,847.40 in premiums returned to the workers.
Since their certification in November of 2013 Rico Farms has created a Fair Trade committee which collects project ideas, holds votes regarding the worker’s priorities and manages project execution. The first priority for the workers was to increase their health care offerings and to make a fully functional clinic. While researching this project the Fair Trade committee found a government grant that would help fund the construction of a new medical clinic. Rico Farms has signed on to fund this project leaving the fair trade funds to be put into other projects.
The first completed project was one the workers were particularly excited about, a new turf soccer field. Competing as teams provides a sense of community for the workers while at the farm. The committee is also in the final stages of planning the purchase and installation of air conditioning units for all sleeping quarters for the workers. The workers voted this project a top priority due to the high heat in Hermosillo, Mexico. Additional projects that the committee and workers have expressed interest in pursuing are making new rest areas, transportation into town, basketball courts and school facilities with computers.
ORGANIC AND LAND USE
Although organic means non-GMO, it means much more, however. Using production practices that build and enrich the soil and surrounding habitat is a hallmark of organic production. Soil testing and analysis is the basis of organic farm management. It identifies what nutrients may be deficient that, when addressed, can improve yields and/or a product’s nutritional content.
Soil testing and analysis is a service offered to the members of the Organic Valley cooperative in La Farge, Wisconsin. They provide discounted soil analysis for their farmers, and a staff agronomist is available to analyze the results and provide assistance on improving the soil quality and addressing specific issues. This is a very popular service with their farmers; over 150 members participated in 2014 and over 700 soil samples were tested.
In addition to this service, each different product that the cooperative produces (i.e. eggs, milk), may have standards and policies that go above and beyond the USDA National Organic Standards or other legal requirements. These cooperative-specific standards and policies clarify requirements for materials allowed on member farms, help assure high product quality standards are being met and assure animal husbandry goals are met.
PACKAGING AND MARKETING MATERIALS
At times, to meet their high standard of environmentally friendly packaging, member companies go to truly impressive lengths to source or develop new packaging technology. So Delicious™ is currently piloting the use of a plant-based, compostable, lickable stick used for their Just Java, So Very Strawberry, and Fudge flavored non-dairy frozen desert bars. Several factors influenced them to put the research and effort into developing these new sticks. They avoid the “woody” flavor of standard sticks, and also use an annually renewable resource, non-GMO corn, rather than the white birch trees that take from 20-30 years to grow used to make standard sticks. The materials are certified compostable, and meet the ASTM D6400 standard which demonstrates this bio-plastic can be aerobically composted in municipal or industrial facilities.
SOLID WASTE REDUCTION
Combating climate change can take many different forms. There is a growing trend to look at opportunities to reduce waste even before it arrives to a company or the consumer. The Eugene, OR based distributor GloryBee works with its suppliers to source supplies and product packaging that supports a zero waste society.
To achieve this goal, GloryBee has developed a policy that includes screening new non-food products or supplies according to specific environmental criteria. This includes evaluating if it is recyclable, reusable, compostable, or made of recycled content (i.e. paper). If more than one option exists, and one that is more environmentally friendly exists, this option is selected if it does not exceed more than 5% of the comparative product’s price. To date, this has impacted purchase of items like bubble wrap (minimum 50% recycled content, 100% recyclable) and biodegradable/compostable packaging peanuts. An impressive percentage of their retail product line is packaged in reusable and recyclable glass or plastic jars. The majority of GloryBee products are transported in reusable totes and drums. The totes are washed and reused 8-12 times before they are recycled into rain gardens or water catchment barrels. The water used to wash out the totes is captured, and then heated with GloryBee’s solar-thermal water heating system. In the summer, all the water they use is heated up completely with the sun!
WATER USE REDUCTION
Water use can be reduced in ways that you may not always expect. For Outpost Natural Foods Co-op, based in Milwaukee, WI, found itself growing and in need of a new store. They took advantage of the building design process to be able to save thousands of gallons of water a year. At their new Mequon, WI store location, the store itself and its surroundings were designed to optimally handle storm water and be a zero run off site It uses rain gardens, porous pavement, native plantings and roof water catchment to ensure that all water that lands on site is managed on site, mitigating over 46,000 gallons of water from entering the storm system in any rain event. Excess water caught in the two 4,000 gallon underground tanks is used to support irrigation needs for their onsite food production and native plantings. Even more, Outpost provides purified water for its shoppers through the use of a Reverse Osmosis (RO) machine. These RO systems are notorious for creating a lot of waste water, where impurities in the water are diverted. By incorporating smart design into this system up front, Outpost is able to direct this “waste” water to their restrooms, where the water is used to flush their public toilets. In fact, from 2015-2016, over 15,000 gallons of water was diverted into toilets!
Animal care policies and support programs have proven MOM’s Organic Markets to be an impressive animal care advocate. 100% of the seafood it sells falls into “Best Choices” category from Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, and 100% of the poultry products offered comes from poultry that enjoy a free range lifestyle and are antibiotic-free. In addition, 100% of its dairy products are rBGH free. However, this Rockville, Maryland based retailer wanted to do more for local wildlife health. Through an innovative partnership with the Oyster Recovery Partnership (ORP), it is helping to restore oyster populations and clean the water in the Chesapeake Bay. By nature, oysters filter water, and the ORP has planted over 5 billion oysters to-date. MOM’s adds to this success by returning used oyster shells to the ORP. These shells are then used as “homes” for baby oysters, improving their chances of survival to adulthood. The final tally of “repurposed” oyster shells? Over 1,400 tons!
CLIMATE CHANGE AND AIR EMISSIONS
Providence, Rhode Island based United Natural Foods, Inc., the leading U.S. independent distributor of natural, organic and specialty foods, unsurprisingly has a sharp eye cast towards its air emissions and climate impacts. It reduces its energy use footprint through use of renewable energies, has five LEED-certified distribution centers across the country, and in particular has been reducing fleet emissions through a multi-pronged approach. Trucks are outfitted with Eco-Flaps which reduce drag and road spray. Routes are optimized through the use of Roadnet software; a powerful tool when paired with PeopleNet software. PeopleNet is an on-board vehicle technology that helps drivers utilize efficient driving practices. Idle times, shifting techniques, and optimized speeds are all communicated to drivers to improve fuel use. UNFI also increased its use of rail versus ground transport.
All of these practices have yielded some impressive results to date. With its increase in rail transport, UNFI has averted the emission of 21,090 metric tons of CO2-equivalent (m.t. CO2e). Increases in fuel efficiency resulted in the avoidance of 693 m.t. CO2e. Furthermore, optimization of routing resulted in the avoidance of 486 m.t. CO2e!
DISTRIBUTION AND SOURCING
In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, SFTA member Outpost Natural Foods proves its dedication to local and sustainable sourcing through a robust program. To ensure that all products purchased are as sustainable as possible, a “Product Evaluation Tool” is used to evaluate all potential new products. This matrix takes into account a product’s carbon footprint, the perceived ethics of the supplier, and packaging sustainability (i.e. is it BPA free, compostable, or recyclable), and gives preference to local or regional products. Locally or regionally produced foods are designated as “local regional favorites” on shelves in order to promote local sales and reduce environmental impacts from distribution footprints. Two positions were also created to have a special focus on increasing local sales, including the Produce Category Manager and a Local Purchasing Specialist! The latter’s goals are specifically to increase the number of local vendors and products the co-op carries.
You’d be hard pressed to find a more comprehensive sustainability education program than that at Organic Valley in La Farge, Wisconsin. External efforts include consumer campaigns that are magnified through partnerships with companies like FrogTV, creation and use of their own YouTube channel, and public education initiatives like the Earth Dinner. Generation Organic was formed in 2010, and is a group of young (18-35 years old) farmers who visit college classrooms across the country and local school classrooms to educate students about organic farming.
Internally, in addition to regularly offered sustainability classes, Organic Valley has created the innovative Employee Growth Incentive Program. It encourages employees to learn about sustainability through media and volunteer activities; employees receive a bonus at year’s end based on how much they learned. In 2014, employees spent an average of 19 hours on training which included sustainability-related classes and volunteer activities.
Lastly, the On-Farm Sustainability Program was created to help Organic Valley farmers utilize renewable energy sources which helps farmers learn about and optimize renewable energy and waste reduction efforts on their farms. These efforts have led to installations of solar power and wind turbines, recycling of agricultural plastic, and biomass digesters. To-date, there are 24 on-farm renewable energy projects installed for a totaling nearly 1 million kWh of energy production annually. In 2014, 35.5 tons of plastic mulch was collected from produce farms which was recycled into trash bags.
In its Springfield, Oregon manufacturing facility, So Delicious® Dairy Free partnered with Cascade Energy and its local utility to participate in the Track & Tune program – an efficiency program designed for medium to large industrial energy users. After months of recording baseline data, changes were made to increase the frozen dessert plant’s energy efficiency, including upgrades to refrigeration equipment plus several low cost/no cost improvements, resulting in an efficiency “tune-up” equal to a 5% reduction of overall energy use for 2013. In 2014 the frozen dessert plant really started reaping the benefits of the program, improving its energy efficiency to 3.97 pounds per kilowatt hour from 3.60 pounds per kilowatt hour, a 10% year-over-year energy efficiency increase.
GOVERNANCE AND COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT
The Community Food Co-op in Bellingham, WA gives back to its community through multiple community and school education classes and charitable donations. However, the co-op has also set up community partnerships in a way that will perpetuate livelihoods and economic success of the local economy.
The Community Food Co-op’s Farm Fund initiates and funds programs designed to support the growth of local, sustainable agriculture. The Farm Fund provides grants and low-interest loans to farmers and food and farming programs. Some of these farmers work with groups making their own significant social investment efforts. Community to Community Development’s Finca Esperanza (Community Hope Garden) trains, serves, and is run by farm workers. Growing Veterans combines veteran reintegration with sustainable agriculture. The fund also works to increase access to local food and to encourage ecological and socially responsible farmland stewardship.
The Community Food Co-op also partners with 39 local businesses in the co-op’s Local Business Partner Program; this program supports buying local and the local business community. Local business owners can sign up to offer a special discount only for member-owners of the co-op.
Going above-and-beyond normal employee programs is nothing new for Annie’s, Inc. This Berkeley, California company offers a full “standard” benefits package, along with some of the best employee perks around: an edible garden, flexible work hours, commuter benefits, ergonomics assessments, twice-monthly massage services, and an on-site gym with yoga and circuit training classes. It doesn’t stop there; the company ensures that critical supply chain partners are aligned with its sustainability values. For its manufacturing partners, Annie’s has a Supplier Code of Conduct that suppliers agree to adhere to. Annie’s takes this one step further by having third-party audits conducted at select locations. Within the farming supply chain, Annie’s supports an apprenticeship program run by one of its wheat farmers to ensure they can grow the next generation of organic farmers. Annie’s purchases sugarcane from a supplier in Brazil who invests in its people, as demonstrated by its EcoSocial certification from IBD. Finally, in 2014 Annie’s transitioned 66% of its cocoa ingredients to be responsibly sourced, 3rd-party certified!
ORGANIC AND LAND USE
Straus Family Creamery, the first 100% certified organic creamery in the US, continues to help generate and respond to growing consumer demand for organic dairy products. The Petaluma, California-based company has added two additional dairies to its group of family farm milk producers, bringing the total up to eight local, organic, family farms comprising 5,081 organic acres in California’s Marin and Sonoma counties. This growth has supported a 27% increase in the amount of organic milk processed at the creamery in 2013. An innovative water saving system reuses all of the water from the creamery at the nearby Straus dairy, where it irrigates pastures, flushes the barns, and helps with generation of renewable energy through a methane digester.
Based on consumer demand, its mission to offer organic products, and long-term sustainability goals, the Ashland Food Co-op in Ashland, OR performed a GMO audit in its store; this considerable effort resulted in 100 products being removed from its shelves! Furthermore, product standards have been developed that do not allow GMO ingredients in any new products in the store.
PACKAGING AND MARKETING MATERIALS
Earl’s Organic Produce in San Francisco, CA has taken several steps to reduce the amount of packaging waste in its produce distribution. It has set a goal to operate a single-use-packaging-free-facility by the year 2020. Understanding that industry practice and food safety requirements have institutionalized the emphasis on single use packaging like plastic wrap and cardboard and wax boxes, Earl’s is taking an incremental, step-by-step approach to implementing small operational changes to tackle the broader issue.
Paraffin wax boxes are a notorious challenge in the produce industry. The petroleum-based paraffin-coated boxes contaminate finished compost, and because they are not recyclable, they most often end up in the landfill. Until recently, wax boxes have been a necessary evil due to their ability to withstand the cold wet environments required for produce storage. This year, Earl’s discontinued its use of waxed cardboard boxes and replaced them with 100% recyclable wet-guard-medium cardboard boxes that stand up under the cold wet environment of vegetable coolers. This will eliminate about 34,000 pounds of wax cardboard waste from being sent to the landfill each year.
In the next year, Earl’s has the goal of beginning a dialogue with some of their vendors and strategic customers to explore opportunities for implementing RPC (reusable plastic container) pilot programs.
SOLID WASTE REDUCTION
Pacific Foods has developed an impressive infrastructure for dealing with high volume waste streams at its manufacturing headquarters in Tualatin, Oregon. In addition to its comprehensive organic waste composting program, Pacific Foods has also dedicated part of its infrastructure for processing large quantities of recyclable and reusable materials for sale in the recycled materials market. Its facility can handle bailing large quantities of cardboard, plastic, and other materials for resale to various materials customers. Thanks to its robust program, Pacific Foods avoids over $130,000 in annual landfill tipping fees. Coupled with the revenue generated from reselling recyclable and reusable materials, Pacific Foods is able to employ five full time employees in its recycling department. One of its major innovative improvements came when the company worked with a local equipment fabricator to create a machine dedicated to de-watering post-industrial waste cartons! Thanks to the custom machine – appropriately named the “Packcrusher” – waste cartons can be recycled quickly and efficiently. Through each of these efforts, Pacific Foods has managed to increase its recovery rate from 40% in 2007 to over 80% in the first quarter of 2015!
WATER USE REDUCTION
Dual-flush toilets are only the beginning of responsible water use for Seattle, Washington based PCC Natural Markets. Its Edmonds, WA location has two rain gardens in the customer parking lot that naturally cleans runoff through layers of filtering soil amendments, and a rooftop rain harvesting system. The latter provides more than 160,000 gallons of water annually that satisfies one-fourth of the store’s landscaping and toilet flushing needs. With new efficiency toilets in use, those 160,000 gallons can add up to 100,000 flushes! The Edmonds PCC’s demonstration of how easy and effective rain gardens can be in a commercial setting prompted its new neighbor, Walgreens, to install two rain gardens. The store also hosts classes taught by the local conservative district that teaches residents how to install rain gardens at home.
Although primarily a distributor of honey, sweeteners, spices, dried fruits, nuts, and oils, GloryBee takes steps to ensure their product suppliers are responsible animal stewards, in particular for their honey products. Stringent in-house testing ensures there is no use of prohibited antibiotics in their honey and hive (i.e. propolis) products. Many of their cosmetic, personal care, and household products are verified free of animal testing through the Coalition for Consumer Information’s “Leaping Bunny” program.
GloryBee also donates one percent of retail sales revenue to their “Save the Bee” campaign. As a result, in 2012 GloryBee’s first donation of $10,000 was to Oregon State University’s Honeybee Research Lab which established the foundation for a long-term partnership.
CLIMATE CHANGE AND AIR EMISSIONS
Even though SunOpta sales grew by 37 percent from 2008 to 2012, its carbon emissions actually declined by over 8 percent in the same amount of time. To help achieve this goal, the Brampton, Ontario based company performed three major energy saving projects in 2012 that saved over three-quarters of a million kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity that year.
The first project reclaimed waste heat to increase the temperature of incoming process water. The second project involved upgrading the insulation for a large ice bank unit, saving over 125,000 kWh per year. The third project consisted of relocating a chiller and cooler closer to the food processing area in the facility – eliminating 1,000 feet of process piping – and adding insulation on remaining piping to realize over 540,000 kWh of electricity savings. In addition, SunOpta continued their partnership with C.H. Robinson, a third party logistics provider and Trees Ontario to plant trees to offset shipment impacts. As a result, over 11,000 trees have been planted on SunOpta’s behalf since 2010. Combined, these projects have accomplished the equivalent of taking 2,636 homes off of the electrical grid.
DISTRIBUTION AND SOURCING
Hummingbird Wholesale, a Eugene, OR-based organic wholesale company, weaves two SFTA commitment areas – climate change and local initiatives – together in its distribution and sourcing program. Over 12 percent of its total product sales – or 250,000 pounds – was delivered by two custom cargo tri-cycles that can deliver up to 1,000 pounds of organic products at a time! In addition, Hummingbird has a dedicated farm liaison staffer who identifies and builds relationships with local (within 100 miles) and regional (Pacific Northwest) producers. These relationships resulted in a 43 percent growth in the number of acres Hummingbird contracts locally, and a 40 percent increase in the pounds purchased of local and regional products!
MOM’s Organic Market has found a great way to balance climate change, community engagement, and sustainability education initiatives. Twice a year, MOM’s holds “We Love Inflation” events: parking lots are staffed with employees who check customers’ tire pressure. If pressure is low, tires are inflated on-site for a fuel efficiency boost of up to 10 percent. Additionally, MOM’s started a program, “Terrapass Your Gas” to offset customer’s shopping trips to and from its stores in order to raise awareness about the importance of collectively reducing our carbon footprint. In 2013, MOM’s offset over 10,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions through Terrapass. MOM’s employs multiple other methods to educate consumers, including in-store campaigns, newsletters and web pages, and through participation in environmental community events. MOM’s thorough approach to sustainability education also focuses on employees. Peer-to-peer book review sessions, environmental film viewings, and field trips to organic farms, sustainable vendors, as well as recycling and renewable energy facilities, are all part of the extensive sustainability education MOM’s offers employees.
The Wedge Co-Op in Minneapolis, MN uses several methods to decrease energy use and increase renewable energy commitments across all of its dynamic business divisions: grocery retail, distribution warehouse, and farm. In the grocery retail, LED-lit refrigerator cases and air curtains at their store’s primary receiving bay help maintain target store temperature and are both energy-saving tactics. In addition, a roof-mounted solar panel water heating system is used to pre-heat water and cut down on energy needed to heat water to needed temperatures. Energy-efficient lighting retrofits have contributed to a two percent decrease in energy consumed by the store in the last year. These gains were augmented by an increase, from 20 to 22 percent, in the store’s renewable energy sources as its electric utility boosted renewables production. In 2014, The Wedge will make an even bigger leap in renewable energy: it will begin benefiting from the installation of 148 Solarworld 270-watt solar panels that will provide over 50,000 kWh of power at the co-op’s farm, Gardens of Eagan.
GOVERNANCE AND COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT
When it comes to making a difference in its community, Seattle, WA-based PCC Natural Markets is an expert. PCC reported that its ongoing rechargeable Scrip fundraising program earned more than $235,000 for 212 community non-profits in the last year. Additionally, the 25-year old PCC Food Bank Program, which uses cash donations from shoppers to buy bulk food at wholesale prices – repackaged by volunteers at bi-monthly work parties – provided more than 36 tons of food for its program partners.
Sebastapol, CA-based Traditional Medicinals is committed to using age-old plant wisdom to improve the health and wellness of both its consumers and staff. That concern for wellness shows in both its supply chain and employee practices. In 2012, 97 percent of their raw botanical tea ingredients were certified organic. This helped them achieve an amazing feat: in 2012, 94 percent of total consumer products have organic certification, versus only 19 percent in 2002! Additionally, the company achieved non-GMO verification of 100 percent of their products.
Beyond that clear commitment to health and sustainability, Traditional Medicinals not only offers an excellent typical benefits package (including 100 percent coverage of full-time employee health insurance and a 401K plan), but has also transitioned to an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). Its supply chain rests on decades-old direct partnerships with herb and product suppliers; in developing countries, many of those partnerships have been certified to both eco and social standards including FairWild and Fair Trade.
ORGANIC AND LAND USE
Frequently touted as an “organic pioneer,” now publicly-traded Annie’s, Inc. remains true to its roots. The commitment to organic continues to grow: purchase of organic ingredients increased 18 percent in FY2013 over the previous year, and the sales of “organic” and “made with organic” products increased from 85 to 86 percent. 70 of Annie’s product SKUs are non-GMO verified. Annie’s is also involved in federal and state-level GMO labeling policy initiatives and is a founding member of the Just Label It campaign. In addition, its employees serve on boards of several prominent organic associations, including the Organic Trade Association, The Organic Center, and the Sustainable Food Trade Association!
PACKAGING AND MARKETING MATERIALS
The sustainability game can be won or lost with packaging, and Nature’s Path in Richmond, British Columbia, aims to win. Its comprehensive packaging guidelines require that all purchased cardboard and paperboard is certified to the stringent Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standard, printed using vegetable based inks, and made of 100 percent recycled content. In addition, all plastic used in packaging of Nature’s Path products is BPA- and PVC-free. Regardless of its large and growing sales, in 2012 Nature’s Path was able to measure and report that 98 percent of ALL its product packaging, by total weight is recyclable by the consumer.
SOLID WASTE REDUCTION
Always a leader in sustainability, Organic Valley in LaFarge, WI, diverted over 95 percent of its annual waste from landfills. 61 percent of diverted waste went to a local farmer’s biofuel digester, 32 percent was diverted to animal feed, and the remaining 2 percent was recycled. In addition, Organic Valley helps reduce landfill waste in its community by hosting recycling events for its employees and community. Events have included hosting recycling collection points for electronics, tires, clothing, and shoes.
The company also runs an agricultural plastic recycling program in conjunction with Terrecon, which recycles the waste into plastic sidewalk and garden pavers. This program resulted in the initial annual collection of over 56,000 pounds of agricultural plastic.
WATER USE REDUCTION
Chico Natural Foods Co-op (Chico, CA) shows that small changes can lead to big impacts! After identifying the need for a critical upgrade in their produce case, the co-op purchased a more efficient model. Another small change — reducing the water they use to fill their produce sink for vegetable prepping by 25 percent. The results? A reported 40 percent reduction in their annual water use!
MOM’s Organic Market – MOM’s Organic Market Bans the sale of Bottled Water