Consumers drive sustainable ideals

GUELPH, Ont. — Sustainable corporate strategies may not only be good for the environment and a means to address social issues. They sell.


The director of sustainability and shared value with Maple Leaf Foods made the point at the annual conference of the Ontario Institute of Agrologists March 31.


Some type of responsible consumption is currently attached to 15 percent of grocery chain retail sales and the sector is growing by nine percent annually, Tim Faveri said. It’s a $120 billion market in the United States and a $400 billion market worldwide.


It’s driven by consumers who, increasingly, demand more than platitudes from companies, Faveri said.


“Corporate responsibility is not just about being green. It’s about being clear. If a company does not communicate clearly, the consumer will just assume the worse.”


Maple Leaf is taking the issue seriously. Faveri said might have simply shifted operations to Mexico but instead has focused on the sustainable investments in the meat protein sector here in Canada, Faveri said.


With a governance structure in place to manage sustainable initiatives, Maple Leaf is focusing on four main areas: advancements in nutrition and health; delivering value to people connected to the company and Canadian communities; animal welfare; and waste reduction.


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“We have an entire value chain at our disposal where we can work on these issues,” Faveri said.


“We have an opportunity to scale and we can have an impact on the entire food chain.”


Impacts affecting farmers include the decision to reduce antibiotic use and move 35,000 sows to open house systems by 2017. 


The images of pigs on the company’s website, incidentally, are without tails, an indication of the company’s commitment to clear messaging, Faveri said.


Another commitment is to reduce the company’s environmental footprint in terms of waste, water and emissions by 50 percent in another 10 years. That’s good for the company’s image and bottom line.


“This is going to save the company a lot of money. We’ve under taken what’s probably the most comprehensive utility audit in all of Canada,” Faveri said.


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Many companies are developing their own sustainability plans. Tim Horton’s, for instance, for whom Faveri was previously employed, adopted the slogan, “Making a True Difference.”


The slogan for Maple Leaf in Canada is “Feeding the Country, Responsibly.” It includes a website, a governance structure and de-tailed strategy.


Along with the changes in how its meats is raised and processed, there is an emphasis on addressing the needs of “food insecure” Canadians with a focus on the problem’s root causes and charitable donations.


One challenge for companies is the term sustainability itself, Faveri said. It means different things to different people.


What is known is that a new demographic has emerged — the aspirationals — that is helping to drive sustainability forward.


Aspirationals pursue materialism but also demand that their consumption is sustainable in certain respects. In Canada they represent 41 percent of the population but it’s a large demographic globally.


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