So as we begin a new year, I am resolving that this year is my year to work on health: I will work to help improve the bottom line of many greenhouse businesses while I help them better understand their impact on the environment and how they compare to other greenhouse growers. I am doing this by continuing to introduce more North American growers to the certification system out of the Netherlands, MPS.
Sustainability As A Process
Most growers with whom I talk about certification admit to ranking this process way down their list of priorities. Given all the challenges that arise in our businesses, I can understand why.
Yet, the reason I like the MPS approach to certification is because it is much more than a certificate to hang in the front office. The tools the MPS system puts in front of growers help them make key decisions for improving their operations. MPS often puts dollars to the bottom line, too.
I have had the pleasure of working with the first grower to become MPS certified in North America, D.S. Cole Growers. D.S. Cole improved its MPS score enough over the last year to now rank as MPS A–the highest grade in the MPS system. This improvement came primarily from a reduction of applications of the more toxic red and amber crop protection agents (CPAs). Even though MPS led D.S. Cole to use more of the less toxic green CPAs, the environmental impact was improved. Cole believes, although he hasn’t yet documented it yet, that these changes had a positive benefit to the bottom line.
“The MPS reports allow us to view our data in an organized way, where we begin to ask questions and challenge our assumptions,” says Doug Cole. “In the past, we didn’t know enough to even ask the questions, so we continued doing things as we had in the past.”
Sustainability is a topic that’s gathering momentum among retailers, suppliers, consumers and especially among young people. Last month, the Food Marketing Institute had its third annual Sustainability Summit, this time partnering with the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which had its best attendance ever.
The summit addressed a wide range of topics for retailers and consumer-packaged goods manufacturers, including the introduction of its new program, “Sustainability on the Shelves–A Guide for Category Managers” for buyers and category managers of supermarkets and mass market retailers. The month before, the Consumer Goods Forum rolled out its two new initiatives: ending deforestation and phasing out hydro fluorocarbon refrigerants.
We have learned of the activities of the Sustainability Consortium, which counts Walmart, Safeway, Best Buy, Ahold and Marks & Spencer as tier 1 and tier 2 retailers on the project. And, we shouldn’t forget the Global Packaging Project, which addresses product packaging and its environmental impact. These projects and others are bringing the vocabulary of sustainable practices to the forefront among buyers, who will ask questions of their suppliers and growers with increasing frequency and depth.
Once a grower begins the certification process for the business, all associates will have access to the process in which their organization is involved and their sustainability score. Understanding it will help improve the business and lessen the impact on the environment. Thus, associates will have answers to the questions raised by buyers, their customers and the media.
Some growers don’t like the idea of certification because they don’t want others involved in their businesses. A certification program doesn’t require the certification organization to be involved heavily in your operation. It should require that you have access to answers to your questions; that confidentiality be maintained with your information; and that your information is professionally audited for accuracy.
The MPS system is an electronic password-protected database of your information. Four times a year, reports are available to you with the data organized and displayed in charts and graphs, demonstrating how your inputs have changed and what impact your changes have on your MPS score and the environment. The entire database is the collection of approximately 5,000 growers worldwide, so in effect you are compared to growers of similar crops in similar environmental zones while your company information is held confidential.
The most difficult part of signing up for a sustainable certification program is putting a stake in the ground as a beginning date. Almost every season of the year has its reasons for not beginning a new program, especially one you pay for and one that requires initial work without the benefits of the scorecard.
Once the systems are in place to collect the data, growers tell me it generally takes only a half hour to input the information each period, or every four weeks, so it is not overwhelming. The leadership of the organization must commit to a start, and let the MPS coordinator guide the organization through the process to lead the business to a successful start. Like dieting, you can begin any time of the year by making the commitment and sticking to it. So make 2011 the year you make the commitment to begin sustainability certification, learn more about your business and how it compares to others. You’ll learn ways you can improve your business and lessen its impact on the environment.