The Big Picture: Sustainability and transparency

BUSINESSES TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR THEIR SUPPLY CHAINS

sustainability and transparency, two of this year’s biggest buzzwords, aren’t just used by food producers, but also by food suppliers. Tim Faveri of Tim Hortons and David Smith of Sobeys Inc. talk about sustainability and what it means to them.

sobeys inc.
David Smith, vice president of sustainability at Sobeys Inc., defines sustainability as meeting consumer demands without compromising future generations’ ability to do so as well. On the surface, he says, it’s about reducing the carbon footprint of your everyday operations – that includes the amount of electricity you use and the waste you produce.
 
“But increasingly, if you want to deal with the issue, it’s about the products that we source, which account for up to 90% of your footprint, depending upon the impact we’re talking about, whether it’s the carbon footprint of water, waste and toxicity, for example,” says Smith.

Smith says that the industry needs a standardized system for measuring food sustainability in terms of overall impact on the environment or animal welfare. It’s about moving from ‘best practices’ to ‘performance measures,’ he says. Offering better transparency in the products that you source requires a great deal of work, a task that should be taken on jointly by those in the food industry. “If we want to create progress, we have to collaborate,” he says. Currently, there are ongoing discussions on a global level on how the industry can measure sustainability.

Smith acknowledges that there will never be a perfect system, but there’s always room for improvement. “Sustainability is not some golden nirvana that you never get to,” he says. “Nothing is sustainable; it’s more sustainable than it was.”

Taking a step in the right direction, Smith says that sustainability will play a more significant role in Sobeys’ food-buying decisions in the future.

In 2009, not long after 12 New York City Dunkin’ Donuts reopened as Tim Hortons, the Humane Society of the United States took a sudden keen interest in the company, especially since their menu carries both poultry and pork products. “What it really did was force us to educate ourselves on issues of animal welfare and what it means,” says Tim Faveri.

tim hortons
In an overview of Tim Hortons’ Sustainability Framework, Faveri talked about their triple bottom line, which focuses on individuals, communities and the planet. In 2011, their goals were released in an annual report, the Sustainability and Responsibility Report, which is available for download on their website. According to Tim Hortons’ 2011 Sustainability & Responsibility Report, the company has met its goal to revise and finalize their Animal Welfare Policy. It was also successful in increasing fuel efficiency by five percent, and reducing water and energy consumption by five percent. It was also their goal to implement a supplier code of conduct with all of their remaining business partners and suppliers by the end of 2011. Due to the sheer depth of the goal, it was one of the few, unfortunately, that they did not meet.

“One of our first steps was to establish a supplier code and getting our suppliers in line with that. It’s a necessary aspect of what we do business on from a transparency perspective and that involves automation and continuous improvement,” says Faveri.

Just because you don’t meet a goal, though, doesn’t mean you stop trying. Tim Hortons continues to move towards more sustainable practices, especially when it comes to animal welfare.

In May of this year, Tim Hortons called upon the pork industry and their suppliers to eliminate gestation stalls for sows, and to develop a clear plan to phase out these systems. The plans and their timelines are due by the end of the year.

The company has also made it their goal to purchase at least 10 percent of their eggs – a number that represents more than 10 million eggs – from enriched hen housing systems by the end of 2013. During that time, they plan on actively evaluating the industry’s ability to provide eggs from enriched systems so that they may increase their commitment beyond 2013.

Faveri and Smith were both guest speakers at this year’s Farm & Food Care conference ‘Building Better Bridges’. •