Corporate sustainability is a concept that goes beyond compliance with laws. It requires commitment, strategic direction and participation in every facet of the operation, from management to the supply chain. Here, Jorge Eusebio Arango, sustainable development vice president and coffee business president for Grupo Nutresa, Medellín, Colombia, offers advice to Baking & Snack readers on corporate sustainability best practices.

Baking & Snack: What is Grupo Nutresa doing to increase sustainability in its supply chain?

Jorge Eusebio Arango: Grupo Nutresa has defined “sustainable development and effective innovation” as and involved framework for our strategy and performance. This implies that all our activities are developed under an integrated focus, where the priority is a commitment to sustainability.

The suppliers are an integral part of our value chain. Grupo Nutresa chooses its suppliers according to criteria based on their respect for the environment, their commitment to society and their employees, and their respective economic proposal. As part of the strengthening of the sustainability of the value chain, we count on, among others:

  • Code of conduct for suppliers.
  • Support programs to small producers that become our suppliers. Some examples are: Cacao para el Futuro (Cacao for the future), Chocolates de Origen (Single Origin Chocolates) and Comercio Justo (Fairtrade for coffee).
  • GMO Policy (declaring the origin of the raw material).

What are the company’s objectives for sustainable practices?

In the development of the Corporate Environmental Policy, it is fundamental that management encourages projects and practices with eco-efficient criteria and looks for savings and effectiveness in processes, with the best environmental and industrial performance.

Management must also consider the use of appropriate and environmentally friendly technology, setting indicators and progress goals regarding the use of natural resources.

Of the six main areas of commodities, packaging, energy, water, waste and transportation, in which have you had the greatest success in achieving your sustainability objectives, and why were you so successful?

Grupo Nutresa is highly committed to the strengthening of operational eco-efficiency inside our production plants. This has meant the initial focus has been the optimization and the harmonious and rational use of natural resources, primarily water and energy.

In order to achieve results, a Corporate Environmental Policy has been established. All employees and directives have been trained, and some programs have been implemented, in order to achieve the proposed goals. All the companies in the group have programs for the rational use of energy and projects to reduce consumption, the rational use of water and projects to reduce its use, and the integral management of solid waste and generated liquids.

These projects as a whole allowed the energy consumption indicator (kWh/ton produced) to decrease 4.5% from 2010 to 2011, the same as the water consumption indicator (m3/ton produced) that decreased 3.9% the same year.

Which facets of sustainability measures have proven the most challenging to meet your objectives, and why?

Targeting climatic change in the organization is a process that requires the integration of information and the definition of a common objective that is challenging and attainable over time. Establishing a goal for reduction of emissions is a big challenge because it implies substantial changes in industrial processes and significant investments as a sum of effective innovations, mainly in industrial processes and in technology.

What's the typical starting point for a company trying to be more sustainable — that low-hanging fruit?

Companies should understand that sustainability means more than just complying with laws that protect the environment and grant benefits to workers. Sustainability requires commitment and strategic direction and a proactive and harmonious environment where everyone is committed to ensuring sustainable conditions in the economic, social and environmental dimensions. This allows continuity over time and benefits stakeholders, employees and society in general. We strive to do the maximum possible and not the minimum required.

What areas of sustainability provide the greatest return on investment?

Grupo Nutresa believes that all areas of sustainability in its economic, social and environmental dimensions have a return in terms of tangible and intangible benefits over time. If it’s only analyzed in terms of economic and environmental criteria, the investments in energy efficiency and the efficient use of water may have a more immediate and more easily quantifiable return; however, there are long-term bets like the use of renewable energy.

How important are things like Wal-Mart's sustainability mandate throughout the global marketplace?

Initiatives developed by global companies help suppliers and other large companies rethink their strategies. To stay alive in the market, companies have to adapt to new requirements, and one of them is the commitment to sustainability in all productive activities.

For example, one company of the group, Colcafe, with important negotiations with Wal-Mart USA, has had various integral auditing processes done by Wal-Mart, with great emphasis on technical, social, environmental and quality aspects. These processes have allowed a stronger commercial relationship with this important retailer.

In the same way that Wal-Mart does it on a global level, Grupo Nutresa’s local initiatives for supplier selection, with a criteria of developed sustainability, have become an incentive for many companies, large and small to become involved in what sustainability is and how it can be part of their business strategies in order to survive in the market.

What kind of training is needed to ensure that all employees use sustainable practices in their day-to-day operations?

It is a commitment that begins with upper management and becomes a framework for our strategy and performance in the market. The communication of the vision, policy and objectives should be at every level of the organization to ensure that all employees know what the company is looking for. In order to put them into practice, collaborators have to see that projects take the key variables of sustainability into account; in this way, everyone in the organization will include them in day to day operations.