Approaches vary from company to company, but, as a whole, the produce industry seems united in its desire to become a “greener,” more sustainable enterprise in 2014.
Kingsville, Ontario-based hothouse vegetable grower-shipper Mastronardi Produce Ltd. wants to advance its Green Grass Project in 2014 in an educational direction, said Daniela Ferro, Mastronardi spokeswoman.
“Our goal is to continue tracking our sustainable business practices in a way that identifies areas where we can improve and grow,” Ferro said.
Mastronardi wants to communicate its sustainable initiatives more through its products and packaging, Ferro said.
She said Mastronardi produces its Eco Bell Peppers in a greenhouse environment that uses more carbon dioxide than it emits.
The company also is focusing on expansion of its Coldwater, Mich., greenhouse, which produces tomatoes year-round, Ferro said.
“The strategic location allows delivery to the surrounding states, which reduces overall food miles,” she said.
Lowering inputs is a major goal at Black Gold Farms, a Grand Forks, N.D.-based potato grower-shipper, said Eric Halverson, executive vice president of technology.
“It’s a long process but it’s an important one and it’s one we’re spending extra time doing,” he said.
Chicago-based reusable stretch wrap manufacturer PalletWrapz Inc. said it’s looking for bigger clients, which would ultimately save non-renewable resources, said Matt Jacobs, president and owner/partner.
“We were going after a lot of the smaller customers, but the bigger ones are the ones that have the sustainability initiatives in place and they’re the ones that appear to make more sense,” he said.
There’s no finish line for a sustainability program, but there is year-by-year progress, said Samantha Cabaluna, vice president of marketing and communications with San Juan Bautista, Calif.-based Earthbound Farm.
She said she hopes the industry takes a step toward harmonization of sustainability practices.
“One important step towards a comprehensive sustainability program in 2014 would be to begin such a harmonization process and make sustainability more accessible and understandable,” she said.
A potential hurdle for such harmonization is a lack of clarity for what “sustainable” means, said Ray Gilmer, vice president of issues management and communication for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association.
“Sustainability can be experienced and measured in different ways for different types of operations, it’s hard to define it in absolute terms universally,” he said.
Saying that a sustainability initiative is comprehensive is probably less realistic than saying that sustainability is continually improving, which is a goal that is attainable for many operations, Gilmer said.
Sustainability audits, which many grower-shippers and other operations are facing, are a concern because they can be inconsistent and costly, he said.
“It’s our goal to streamline the assessment of sustainability programs so that produce industry companies can be recognized for the substantive progress they continually make in advancing sustainability,” he said.