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Food and beverage companies increasingly are evaluating and improving their operations with an eye not just to profitability, but to sustainability. Primient Global Sustainability Manager Laura Kowalski offers insights into what companies are seeking to achieve – and why.
Q. We are seeing more and more sustainable supply chain programs in the marketplace. What types of things might serve as the impetus for a company to begin one of these programs?
A. For Primient, our sustainable supply chain program development was purposeful – it was both a natural progression for our plant-based renewable company and a commitment to better serve our customers. Understanding supply chain risks and opportunities are table stakes for Primient when it comes to being a responsible value chain partner. We see building a sustainable business as a business imperative. Finding the right company to work with from the start is invaluable. For public companies, there might also be investor issues at play, such as an interest in gathering and analyzing carbon metrics.
Q. Who is typically involved in these decisions?
A. Implementing a sustainability program that delivers meaningful change up and down the value chain is challenging. The process starts with the internal sustainability team. These subject matter experts are core to engaging the right resources and projects, as well as identifying the most relevant metrics. The communications team also needs to be involved from idea to implementation, telling the story of the work – what is happening, why it’s happening and how it matters internally and externally. At the outset of any program, its essential that leadership across the organization is fully on board since sustainability efforts ultimately touch many different stakeholders and can be material to the business’ larger success.
In our case, we’re procuring 100% of the equivalent corn we buy each year – it’s a true enterprise-wide initiative – so engagement and approval for our sustainability program went all the way to the top. This may not be the case in other organizations where only one or two business units are involved. Yet when sustainability is an enterprise-wide undertaking, the sustainability team needs to thoroughly understand and share with leadership the commitment that is necessary, as well as the business case for how customers engage.
Q. What is the role of reporting in a program such as this?
A. The goal with any sustainability program is to make an impact. Metrics provide a critical line of sight to ensure the program is delivering progress where and when we expect it to. A consistent dashboard that takes into account our data set priorities as well as those of our customers is key to telling a full impact story. For example, with our program, the interrelationship between soil health, carbon and nitrogen efficiency is one example of how working in a single area can yield insights into multiple impacts on the ground.
Q. How is the data from the reporting used?
A. In addition to using metrics to report program results to internal and external customers, there are many other systems, such as SBTi (Science Based Targets initiative) and CDP (Carbon Disclosure Project) in which data plays a central role. Internal reporting might also include evaluation of impact on Scope 3 emissions and can be used to help stakeholders understand the work that is going on within the supply chain through case studies, feature stories and in our case, our sustainability impact report.
Q. What is the expectation of how such programs roll out and evolve?
A. When we initiated our sustainable supply chain program, carbon was secondary, but now carbon is king. We closely monitor the progression of our supply chain programs and complete our due diligence to keep up with evolving definitions and priorities. We know there is more we can do to positively impact our supply chain. For example, what better way to understand the role of water in our industry than to link it to our agriculture program – demonstrating the full water cycle from field to farm, into our ingredients, and finally on to a consumer product? Another metric gaining attention is biodiversity, more specifically how do we understand biodiversity impact on the farm? The opportunity – and the challenge -- is to not create separate programs, but rather to weave priorities into what we're already doing. The sustainability world is ever developing, and professionals working in sustainability need to understand what’s on the horizon in order to stay aligned.
Q. Truterra focuses on the farmer and working with farmers and the value chain to continuously improve sustainability. Yet we also know that for companies such as Primient, sustainability means more than just what happens on the farm. What is the larger definition of sustainability that Primient works with on a daily basis?
A. For Primient, sustainability is about creating positive and lasting change in support of the communities where we operate. Thus, our approach includes continuous improvement within our operations as well as out in the communities we call home. Today, that program is based on the three pillars of food accessibility, education, and continuous improvement. We focus on doing more than just providing funding – we encourage our people to become personally involved in understanding relevant community issues, and sharing time, talent, and resources towards effective and sustainable solutions. We celebrate the wins together – one, in particular, we celebrate is that our corn wet milling facilities in Lafayette, IN, and Loudon, TN, are the only two facilities in the corn wet milling industry to have consistently received the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star certification for the past eight and six years, respectively..
Q. You mentioned early on the need within this kind of program to find the right company to work with. Based on your experience, what would you say are key things to look for when assessing potential collaborators?
A. The key to evaluating partners is to determine if they have the structure and scale necessary to meet objectives now and, in the future, as well as demonstrating a strong track record of proven performance. With Primient’s focus on community, it was important for us to identify a partner with strong ties to local producers, bringing that community priority along with the project rather than imposing our practices top down. As we work with and learn from Truterra, we are also realizing the important role of the ag retailer as the farmer’s trusted advisor, and the fact that Truterra works with these retailers has added a level of trust to our program that will serve us well as we continue to drive supportive change up and down the value chain. It’s an ongoing journey, but we’re in it for the long term.
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