There is no one generally accepted definition of sustainability. Therefore, it’s not surprising that companies engaged in sustainability commit to it in different ways depending on their business. For example, a company that brews beer might be more focused on conservation of resources such as water and grain. A company that manufactures electronics might be more focused on responsible mining of minerals.
What may be surprising, however, is that companies within the same industry, doing roughly the same thing, would differ in how they approach sustainability.
I recently visited with three different produce growers about their sustainability efforts and all three, while committed in general to the overall mission of “people, planet, profit,” had a unique sustainability approach and vision for their operation.
The first farm I visited had a very data-driven definition of sustainability. Their sustainability vision: measurement and tracking of everything they do on-farm should result in efficiencies that, in the end, result in better utilization of resources, better stewardship of the land and, ultimately, increased profitability.
The second farm focused on community and employee outreach to define sustainability. Their vision: if the farm operation is viewed positively by employees, potential employees and the community, people will be inclined to want to work there and stay there. A happy employee is also more likely to do a better job and even engage in efforts to improve the operation for the betterment of the business.
The final grower focused on transparency and communication of sustainability efforts to all stakeholders, including consumers. Their vision: while the business doesn’t sell directly to consumers, this operation understands the concerns of many to know where their food comes from and how it is produced. Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are all vehicles being used to help tell the on-farm story and help consumers connect farm to fork and forge a more positive image of the industry and, specifically, this particular farming operation.
Bottom line, the overall goal of sustainability remains the same, even if the journey to get there differs. There is no cookie-cutter approach. And, if it is to be truly meaningful to you, it needs to be authentic and reflect what is unique about you and be relevant to your business.