It has been quite a few years since the green movement of the 1960s and 70s gave root to the “back to the land” ethos that was the birthplace of organic foods. Global climate change is part of the daily discussion now, and there are very few naysayers willing to deny that we are changing the very ecology of our planet. Companies that make and sell organic products not only promote products that are good for the planet, they are also on the cutting edge of reducing the ecological footprint while doing business.
It seems only natural that organic food companies are greening their supply chains in order to become leaders in reducing the impact businesses have on the environment. Members of a little known but significantly impressive association of organic companies share best practices and work together to create new business paradigms. The Sustainable Food Trade Association (SFTA) believes that it’s important not to accept business as usual but to create new models of sustainability that can be shared to help move the needle forward.
The 64 SFTA member companies make a conscious decision to reduce the impact of their operations on the earth in key areas they commit to in a “Declaration of Sustainability”. They do this by expanding organic offerings and reducing energy, waste and water use. They seek to make an impact on climate change by improving distribution and sourcing through packaging practices, while also addressing governance and employee relations. Affecting change in all these major areas is a tall order and, in essence, “takes a village”, as the members audit, analyze and report on their sustainability activities to help each of them continue to improve.
The Sustainable Food Trade Association’s recently released their second annual Member Sustainability Progress Report, and the stories were astounding in their ingenuity and valor. Below are some intriguing examples of how these member companies are creating change in the organic supply chain.
One SFTA member whose animal care practices stand out is GloryBee. 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.
SunOpta sales grew by 37 percent from 2008 to 2012, while 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.
Let’s take a look at that distributor, Hummingbird Wholesale, a Eugene, OR-based organic wholesale company. The 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!
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 the tire pressure on customer vehicles. 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 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.
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. 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 of 20 to 22 percent in the store’s renewable energy sources as its electric utility boosted renewables production.
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 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. The 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 had organic certification versus 19 percent in 2002! Additionally, the company achieved non-GMO verification for 100 percent of their products.
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!
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 be 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 the brand’s significant and growing sales, in 2012 Nature’s Path was able to measure and report that 98 percent of ALL its product packaging can be recycled by consumers.
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 the public. The company has also set up recycling collection points for electronics, tires, clothing and shoes.
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!
The Sustainable Food Trade Association (SFTA) is a non-profit trade association that represents several North American organic food companies. It develops useful metrics and tools, provides education, and helps its members reduce their impact on the environment and value their workers. This serves as a natural extension to the commitment these companies have made to offer organic products. They believe that everyone engaged in the organic food trade must share the onus to address climate change and the depletion of natural and human resources. This can be done through business practices that offer the wonderful social and environmental benefits of organic food and agriculture in the most sustainable manner possible.
I urge you to connect with them! SFTA offers many opportunities to do so—whether through membership, webinars, regional trainings, conferences or social media.
Check them out at www.sustainablefoodtrade.org . Let’s pave the sustainable way together!