Sustainability surveys

by Editorial Staff
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When a company is asked to complete a survey about sustainability efforts, they are being asked different questions by different entities. When a customer asks about sustainability, they want to know whether or not the company is an efficient producer. Is the company showing continuous improvement and able to sell a top quality product at a low price? Will that price allow the customer to make a profit?

When asked about sustainability by a consumer, the consumer wants to know that the company reflects personal values for protecting the environment. The consumer’s behavior will then be affected to buy or not to buy the product.

When insurance companies and investors ask about sustainability, they are asking about the efficiency and economic sustainability of the company, which will influence rates and investment. When the government asks about sustainability, the behavior is reflecting public values for protecting the environment and the government is showing their accountability to the public.

Successful companies always are taking steps to improve efficiency and control costs. What has changed is the need to document the steps to show the continuing improvement in terms of corporate responsibility and sustainability.

A company needs records to show the changes. Given the current reporting demands it would be prudent to have or reconstruct records of major projects back to 2000. In addition, keep records of improvements starting now and going forward. Keep records and permits for as long as the plant is operating. Consider asking for records when purchasing a plant.

To show change a company must measure. For example, metering energy and water use is critical to understanding where a company has opportunities to reduce use. Meters are becoming less expensive, easier to install and use. Each oven should have a separate meter. Boilers and other fuel burning equipment should have meters. Each water use system or machine should be metered. Refrigeration systems should be metered.

The Return on Investment (R.O.I.) on sustainability projects should not be judged with the same scale as other projects. The costs are immediate, but the benefits are broader than production and last over the life of the facility.

Company operations are increasingly transparent. The following are some subjects to think about when responding to a survey:

• Answers must be accurate and replicable by third parties. Some data may be made publically available.

• Think carefully about when, how and where the company will report numbers. Choices range from company reports to public databases and do not really differ for public versus privately held companies. Although information may be available, some companies only release such information if asked.

• Be realistic in setting goals. Five to fifteen per cent reductions over 8 years may be huge and may be dependent on changes that were made 5 or 10 years ago. Consider carefully how the company may take credit for the efficiencies that have been implemented. If internal goals have been set or met, consider whether those numbers may be made available without compromising company operating information.

The calculation of a carbon footprint or a company’s Green House Gas (G.H.G.) emissions should state clearly whether the number is restricted to resources used "within the four walls" of the plant or includes resources used by suppliers from agriculture to packagers and transportation. Note that food processors are dependent on agriculture, which has a large carbon footprint. The calculation should be consistent with the Carbon Trust methods. For an example of a bakery G.H.G. calculation see Milling & Baking News of May 5, Page 26.

Solid waste numbers should include what was sent to a land fill. Materials recycled for energy in an incinerator, product sent for animal feed, recycled cardboard and office paper are not waste. Hazardous waste should be evaluated for recycling or other disposal by the company’s contractor.

Packaging is an important issue for food processors. The packaging must protect the freshness and safety of the product. Companies may need to look at purchasing specifications in a new way. The company may have asked by implication for elements that went beyond the initial needs, for example, asking about third-party quality audits that also consider worker well-being.

Sustainability is inextricably tied to corporate responsibility and social issues such as worker safety, wages, insurance, food safety and the company’s role in the community. The departments in the company need to exchange information so that surveys may be answered in a manner that truly reflects all of the company’s constructive initiatives.

Remember that responses to a sustainability survey may have little to do with the earth’s environment and much to do with the economic efficiency of the company.

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Milling and Baking News, August 25, 2009, starting on Page 26. Click
here to search that archive.

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