by Carl Jorgensen, Director, Thought Leadership-Wellness, Daymon Worldwide
The foundational idea is that something is sustainable is that it is resilient and long-lasting. Or, as the famed University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman framed it, “What is unsustainable will not be sustained.” To those of us running businesses and those of us making public policy, it’s a call to examine if what we are doing is sustainable, because it’s literally a matter of survival!
What is unsustainable will not be sustained.
– Milton Friedman, Economist, University of Chicago
Lets think about the sustainability of the food production and distribution system that we are a key part of. The core concepts of food sustainability were summed up perfectly by Wendell Berry, a great American writer on food systems. He said, “A sustainable agriculture does not deplete soils or people.” The themes of soil and people form the basis of a holistic perspective on sustainability.
A sustainable agriculture does not deplete soils or people.
– Wendell Berry, Farmer, American novelist, poet, environmental activist, cultural critic
The environmental, social and financial costs of the way we have been producing food are finally becoming so obvious that in the fall of 2017 at a global livestock conference in London, the organizers said, “There should be a total rethink of food and farming policies. There will be catastrophic impacts for life on Earth unless there is a global move away from intensive farming. The world is on track to lose two-thirds of its wildlife by the end of this decade, largely because habitats have been destroyed to produce food for humans. There has been a rise in so-called ‘superbugs’ linked to the use of antibiotics in farmed animals. And methane emissions from livestock have made a significant contribution to climate change.”
With that sobering perspective, we see the urgent need for our industry to take a leadership role in sustainability.
Retailers and manufacturers have been very active in taking the initiative on sustainability in many areas of their operations. A recent industry survey found that 77% of food and beverage manufacturers report that they’ve made modifications to their offerings based on consumer sustainability concerns. The focus has been on processes where energy is consumed, waste is generated, how farm workers are treated, and on getting food to under-served populations. As we understand more how food production affects the planet and all of us, the need to focus our attention on how all food is produced has become urgent.
The USDA has defined the major themes of sustainable food production.
1) Integrate Natural Cycles
2) Renew Soil Fertility
3) Use On-Farm Resources
4) Reduce use of nonrenewable resources and off-farm inputs
5) Provide an adequate and dependable income
6) Promote opportunity in family farming and farm communities
7) Minimize adverse impacts on health, safety, wildlife, water quality and the environment
Understanding each of these pillars provides a window into what sustainable food production looks like, and to identify how retailers and manufacturers can take a leadership role. Organic pioneer J.I. Rodale was fond of saying, “Healthy Soil = Healthy Food = Healthy People”. Since soil and people are the basis of sustainable food production, let’s take an in-depth look at one of these pillars: 2) Renew Soil Fertility.
Healthy soil = healthy food = healthy people.
– J.I. Rodale, Organic Pioneer
RENEW SOIL FERTILITY
The input-intensive methods of modern agriculture have destroyed the viability of our soils worldwide, leading to ever-more intensive applications of petroleum-based fertilizers, pesticides and scarce water. The runoff from depleted soils has degraded surface waters, and destruction of wildlife habitats and biodiversity have reached crisis levels. The release of stored carbon from once-living soils is the number-one contributor to climate-changing greenhouse gases. Plants grown in living soils have strong immune systems: they are more disease- and pest-resistant, and contain higher nutritional value. Living soils manage water up to 10 times better than depleted soils, reducing runoff and helping crops weather drought conditions. The urgency of understanding of the vital role of soil in maintaining life of earth was summed up by Pipeline Foods CEO Eric Jackson, when he said, “You’ve got to stop treating soil like dirt.”
You’ve got to stop treating the soil like dirt.
– Eric Jackson, CEO, Pipeline Foods
Regenerative agriculture is the new focus in the world of sustainability. It comprises an array of techniques that rebuild soil, and, in the process, sequester carbon. Typically, it uses cover crops and perennials so that bare soil is never exposed, and it grazes animals in ways that mimic animals in nature. It also offers ecological benefits far beyond carbon storage: it stops soil erosion, re-mineralizes soil, protects the purity of groundwater and reduces damaging pesticide and fertilizer runoff. Regenerative food and farming has the potential to draw down a critical mass of possibly 200-250 billion tons of carbon from the atmosphere over the next 25 years and store it in our soils and living plants, where it will increase soil fertility, food production and food quality while re-stabilizing the climate. Already, the industry is moving to codify the principles and practices of regenerative agriculture: On September 13, 2017, the Rodale Institute unveiled draft standards for a new Regenerative Organic Certification.
Sustainability is one of the most urgent issues of our time. It requires action on every level of society, from the individual, to companies, to nations and the world. Our industry has the opportunity right now to take a leadership role in creating a sustainable, resilient, and secure food supply for the future. It’s not just a nice idea; it’s good business. Recommended steps to become sustainability leaders are:
• Understand what sustainable food production means, and how it builds soil and communities.
• Understand what sustainability means to your customers, and align with their values.
• Partner with and invest in sustainable food production.
• Choose appropriate certifiers to define and verify your sustainability requirements for growers and manufacturers.
• Take credit! Tell your authentic sustainability story on pack and at retail.
Please note: This article contains the sole views and opinions of Carl Jorgensen and does not reflect the views or opinions of Guidepoint Global, LLC (“Guidepoint”). Guidepoint is not a registered investment adviser and cannot transact business as an investment adviser or give investment advice. The information provided in this article is not intended to constitute investment advice, nor is it intended as an offer or solicitation of an offer or a recommendation to buy, hold or sell any security. Any use of this article without the express written consent of Guidepoint and Carl Jorgensen is prohibited.