Sustainability program aims to reduce waste

Greener Fields Together has partnered with agriculture industry consultants Measure to Improve LLC to launch a sustainability program aimed to reduce waste across the supply chain. Ten of PRO*ACT’s top suppliers have currently signed the Waste Reduction Pledge to dramatically reduce waste sent to landfill from their facilities.

Anne Nichols, sustainability manager for PRO*ACT USA, based in Monterey, CA, said that waste reduction is something that plagues the industry and costs a lot of money. In fact, the EPA estimates that 254 million tons of waste per year is generated, while only 34 percent is actually composted or recycled. Those numbers are even worse when looking specifically at the food industry.

“Before launching the Waste Reduction Pledge Program, Greener Fields Together worked with our national farm partners by providing one-on-one case studies and offering a platform where suppliers could enter metrics on their energy, water and waste,” Nichols said. “Over the three years of collecting the data, we realized that it was very difficult to analyze the information, and therefore we couldn’t draw any real conclusion. Ultimately, we felt that the information that was collected was not verifiable and it was delivered in too many formats to be useful.”

The survey was also burdensome and tedious for PRO*ACT’s suppliers, who are often required to fill out lengthy sustainability surveys for large retail customers, such as Walmart. This new approach aims at providing resources to help them track and verify their waste output by month, and offers them tools to divert waste from the landfill.

“The overarching goal is to create continuous improvement in sustainability throughout the fresh produce supply chain,” Nichols said. “We understand that sustainability is ever changing and what may work today won’t work tomorrow, which is why this is an ongoing and multi-phase project. Currently in phase 1, we are focusing on our suppliers, and phase 2 will focus on diverting and decreasing waste at our purveyors. Finally, this will be disseminated to our customers for phase 3.”

PRO*ACT sits in a unique spot within the supply chain, allowing the company to work closely with suppliers, purveyors and customers.

“Our commitment to sustainability through the Greener Fields Together program means we are working toward minimizing the environmental impact of our supply chain,” Nichols said. “We believe the best way to do this is to become a resource center for our partners to help drive change at their own facilities.”

The 10 suppliers who have pledged, also called the National Farm Partners (NFPs), will be working toward different targets for waste diversion depending on what pledge level they chose.

“All NFPs are required to create a green team and connect and analyze their waste data. As the pledge levels progress, the NFP is responsible for more actionable items, such as assessing their material streams, examining purchasing processes, verifying hazardous waste management and compliance and finally becoming third-party certified,” Nichols said. “We offered different levels of pledges in order to not dissuade anyone from participating in case they had never targeted their waste stream before.”

Being an experimental program, there are no perceived expectations on what the results will be, but all involved believe it will be a great learning experience and should accomplish a great deal.

“While we are a national sustainability program working towards this goal, it takes our entire community to make a change,” Nichols said. “Often times, sustainability and the state of our environment may seem cataclysmic and daunting to tackle, but we are so hopeful for the future. With the Waste Reduction Pledge Program, we believe we are planting the seed to make real change.”

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