Going Green, Growing Greens

How the vegetable industry is embracing its true colors.

Sustainability — it's everywhere and growing fast. Nearly every industry and every company has increased its efforts to “go green.” However, those in the produce business are faced with an additional challenge: making greens (and all vegetables) greener. From field to fork, the focus for manufacturers must be on sustainability, taking great care in how products are grown, harvested and packed.

As a producer or manufacturer, it's imperative to identify with the ever-growing consumer need to know where products come from. In the case of vegetables, consumers want to know how they are grown and the course they've been on before landing at the supper table. Below are four tips for achieving greater sustainability for any industry.

GREEN FROM THE INSIDE OUT

Begin by reducing your carbon footprint. It's easier than it sounds. You can save in office energy bills and keep an average of 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere by keeping the office thermostat 2 degrees lower in winter and 2 degrees higher in summer.

Furthermore, facilities across the country, corporate headquarters included, are cutting electricity and water use by more than 30 percent thanks to internal energy saving initiatives such as low-energy light bulbs, water use reduction and more.

On the outside, invest in transportation that operates on higher efficiency tires. They keep air pressure longer and reduce contribution to the 1.5 million extra tons of greenhouse gases emitted each year.

LARGER PERCENTAGE/LARGER IMPACT

When it comes to packaging, manufacturers should strive to utilize as much recycled material as feasibly possible so consumers may continue the eco-friendly cycle. Recyclable steel, the most widely used repurposed material, can be sustainable even before reaching retailers — for example, many canning facilities manufacture new cans from stripped and recycled steel.

In terms of casing and shipping, packaging should be at the forefront of every manufacturers' sustainability plan. By reducing the use of cardboard and wrapping, distributors and retailers — and ultimately consumers — are left with less waste.

When consumers recycle a can, they reduce the need for new materials to be mined and processed, thus easing the burden on the environment and lowering the cost of packaging. By keeping packaging simple and easy to recycle, consumers do not have to question its recyclability — instead, they can just toss it in, take it to their recycling center and be confident that their efforts are making a difference.

In the vegetable industry, healthy soil is needed to grow and produce good product. Sustainable packaging will keep soil fruitful and healthy. The average American produces 1,609 pounds of waste each year, so recycling, composting and reuse can cut that waste stream by up to 75 percent.

SUSTAINABILITY 101

Educate your entire organization about sustainability and arm employees with basic knowledge that takes minimal effort yet results in maximum impact. By involving each employee at every level, a sense of teamwork and accomplishment ultimately is achieved — not to mention a greener, healthier environment. Spread the education and share good news as it happens.

Institute opportunities for employees to contribute. Internally, create a basic recycling program — whether for soda cans, batteries or paper and plastic. This type of simple program encourages team members to extend the lessons of recycling and sustainability to their families at home.

Externally, incorporate regular sustainability audits. Aside from having hard numbers illustrating green results, sustainability audits pinpoint where each organization is in yield or profit.

LOCAL IS LIKABLE

In addition to green, make the red, white and blue a part of daily operations, too. There's a paradigm shift occurring — consumers, by and large, significantly trust and value the idea of helping its local community. Work with local businesses across the country or engage in partnerships that will help to maintain and/or create jobs in your community. When we do this in our industry, the national economy is supported and healthier, safer, greener vegetables are made available for families nationwide.

In an industry where sustainability is everywhere, it's important to be a company whose “green” runs deeper. While sustainability starts at the field, it doesn't have to end at the harvest.


Danny Bolstad is vice president, Science and Technology, for Allens Inc., a family-owned and operated company headquartered in Siloam Springs, Ark. One of the largest, privately held vegetable companies in the nation, Allens grows and packs both frozen and canned vegetables. Allens brand vegetables are sold nationally and its Veg-All brand is sold internationally.

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