New Suite of Sustainability Tools

August 9, 2012 - 09:06

A new sustainability certification program for nursery and greenhouse growers has hit the market.

I know what you are thinking: Another sustainability program, really? Yes, and it is more than certification and certainly worth a look.

A New Sustainability Package

The newly released package from Food Alliance (FA) includes three sustainability tools for greenhouse and nursery producers who wish to manage for operational, environmental and social excellence. The package targets best-in-class growers, but anyone can use and benefit from the tools:

1. The FA Sustainability Standard for Nursery and Greenhouse Production provides a comprehensive definition to guide nursery and greenhouse operators in achieving greater sustainability.

2. The FA Sustainability Evaluation Tool allows growers to self-assess current sustainability performance — and set sustainability objectives — either as a prelude to certification or as a best management practice.

3. The voluntary FA Sustainability Certification Program gives producers a credible way to distinguish their sustainably managed operation and products in the marketplace, to customers and consumers.

Access to the FA Sustainability Standard and Evaluation Tool is available for free download at www.foodalliance.org/nursery.

Who Is Food Alliance?

Don’t be fooled by the name. Food Alliance, an Oregon-based not-for-profit, is not only the most established certifier of sustainability claims in U.S. agriculture, but it was approached directly by the horticulture industry to develop the FA Sustainability Standard for Nursery and Greenhouse Production.

Going back a bit, Food Alliance was founded in the early 1990s as a project of Oregon State University, Washington State University and Washington State Department of Agriculture. Its mission is to define and promote sustainability in agriculture through environmental stewardship, fair working conditions, and best management practices.
Today there are more than 320 operations in North America, comprising 5.6 million acres that are managed under Food Alliance standards and certification.

Oregon Association of Nurseries Initiates Effort

Food Alliance developed the suite of sustainability tools for horticulture upon industry request. Representatives of the Oregon Association of Nurseries (OAN) approached Food Alliance after some of their members requested independent, third-party verification of their sustainability practices. Because some of OAN’s members were already Food Alliance certified for other crops, they were familiar with Food Alliance’s reputation for stringent, comprehensive standards and certification — and for constructive collaboration with growers and supply chain members. This signal of industry support gave Food Alliance the confidence to raise funds and expand into horticulture.

Comparing Standards — What’s In It for Me?

With a number of existing sustainability standards available for industry use, one would ask, “Do we need another standard?” To answer that question, it helps to look at how the FA Sustainability Standard for Nursery and Greenhouse Production was developed — and its unique aspects.

1. The FA Standard was developed specifically for ornamental plant producers in North America and the operational challenges they face. Food Alliance recognizes that OSHA, the EPA, and other regulatory agencies dictate compliance with basic social and environmental practices, so the focus is on sustainable outcomes and practices that go beyond those basic requirements.

2. The FA Standard was developed with input from industry stakeholders — land grant Universities, extension specialists, growers, trade organizations, floricultural consultants, and the USDA — so it’s entirely relevant to horticulture.

3. More than a standard, it is a suite of sustainability business tools that can be used together or by component, depending on your objectives. For instance, one grower may seek certification to make a market-facing claim, while another may wish to benchmark practices and use the results solely to inform management decisions. Together, the tools give nursery and greenhouse producers a comprehensive way to manage their operations for sustainability, now and in the future.

4. The FA Sustainability Standard for Nursery & Greenhouse Production addresses all operational activities covered under sustainable production, so producers can continually manage social and environmental outcomes via a single tool.

5. Food Alliance respects grower expertise and innovation. The standard’s criteria are designed to award credit for innovative practices that achieve the intended outcomes, even if the innovation reflects a novel approach not explicitly listed within the criteria.

6. If a producer earns certification, the certification is valid for a three-year period. Likewise, inspections take place every three years. With this arrangement, producers save time and money by eliminating annual inspections and associated fees, while also having the benefit of 36 months to improve existing sustainability practices, and identify and implement new ones, toward continual improvement and operational efficiencies.

7. Of benefit to nurseries and greenhouses in the Pacific Northwest, the FA Standard allows for concurrent compliance and verification — at no extra cost — with Salmon-Safe, which protects water quality and the spawning habitat of native salmon.

8. Food Alliance certification not only indicates whether you “passed,” but also quantifies performance in each sustainability category and identifies subsequent steps. For this reason, the FA certification is a powerful business management tool for driving operational excellence.

9. Food Alliance contracts inspections to an independent certifier, which gives your certification irrefutable credibility. The independent certifier alone, reviews the application, conducts the inspection and decides whether to award certification — without outside influence.

10. The last and perhaps the most important distinguishing attribute is Food Alliance itself. Food Alliance has over a decade of experience developing and maintaining comprehensive sustainability standards and criteria for a wide range of agricultural products. As a 501(c)3 nonprofit, Food Alliance’s business decisions are bound by mission, not motivated by profit. And as the organization’s name suggests, Food Alliance works in alliance with all industry stakeholders, encouraging insight and innovation.

Sustainability and the Ornamental Plant Producer

Sustainability is about meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs, which necessarily means enhancing the health of the ecosystem. In ornamental plant production, this is usually accomplished by reducing energy, water, and chemical use while also managing natural and human resources with regard to specific environmental and community objectives.

Food Alliance has just made everyone’s job easier. Its sustainability standards are stringent and its tools are accessible.

Producers interested in pursuing Food Alliance certification should understand that certification is a tool that helps add credibility to their sustainability claims through outside verification to meaningful standards. Moreover, there are growing opportunities to differentiate operations through sustainability practices in the nursery and greenhouse industry. According to Packaged Facts, the domestic market for ethical products (eco-friendly/green/fair) is expected to grow from $38 billion in 2009 to $62 billion in 2014, with sales of non-food items growing at a faster pace than food.

For more information on the FA Sustainability Standard for Nursery & Greenhouse Production, visit www.foodalliance.org/nursery or e-mail roberta@foodalliance.org.

About The Author

Jim Snyder is president of Sustainability Services. He can be reached at snyderjim@windstream.net.

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