In the past few issues, we have reviewed the meaning of sustainability, defined the various certification programs currently available and debated the benefits and liabilities of attaining certification in one of these programs.
For many, the issue of sustainability remains very complicated, with multiple unknowns deterring them from committing to one of the certification standards. Most producers, however, agree that becoming “greener” now can be a benefit to their business, employees, customers and community while they continue to investigate the nuances of certification in one of the standards.
In the following pages we’ll look at many affordable avenues toward becoming more “green” that can be implemented now without making a commitment to a particular standard. Many of you may already be employing these strategies without realizing their connection to sustainability and without taking credit for implementing sustainable practices. All of these will be positive factors in attaining certification once you make a decision on a preferred certification standard. For the sake of this discussion, we’ll divide the topic into four areas of focus: resource and energy conservation, production techniques, integrated waste management, and employee and community relations.
Resource and energy conservation. This probably is the single most-discussed issue in our industry today because of the large percentage of total cost it represents and the geometric progression with which these costs are increasing. There are many capital-intensive projects — biomass boilers, new efficient structures and co-generation, for example — that can be implemented to affect cost and reduce the introduction of carbon and other by-products into the environment. However, most of these are expensive, long term and require careful calculation of the payback. Here are positive moves you can make now without breaking the bank:
Replace light bulbs and fixtures with those that are more energy efficient.
Put lights, motors and other elec- trical consumers on timers or regulators that allow them to run only when necessary.
Make sure heaters, boilers, coolers and air conditioners are cleaned and tuned to run as efficiently as possible.
Make sure all automated heating, cooling and ventilating controls are operating correctly and in mul- tiple stages whenever possible.
Install one of the new shipping software programs to ensure trucks are routed efficiently and loaded to maximum capacity.
Use outside trucking firms along with box or pallet systems to reduce the need for assembling and returning racks and allowing for one-way hauls.
When recovering greenhouses, use one of the new energy-efficient products.
Install heat curtains to reduce energy demand.
Production techniques. This is an area where many small, seemingly inconsequential changes can combine to make major strides in becoming more eco-friendly and move toward true sustainable production.
Implement a comprehensive IPM program to reduce the amount and frequency of chemical applications.
Ensure that all pesticide applica- tors are properly trained/certi- fied and have appropriate applica- tion equipment and protective gear.
Employ biological and mechan- ical controls to reduce depen- dency on chemicals and their introduction into the environment.
Ensure that pesticide storage facil- ities meet OSHA, EPA, state and local requirements.
Ensure that employees are trained periodically in all local, state and federal pesticide regulations.
Make sure that chemical rotations are appropriate, and use the least toxic pesticide to get desired results.
Consider eliminating or replacing any EPA Class I highly toxic chem- icals within one year.
Design and implement a plan to reduce/replace EPA Class II highly toxic chemicals.
Use subirrigation, drip irrigation, boom watering and recycled irri- gation systems, all controlled by computer or monitoring equip- ment, to reduce water use and eliminate runoff.
Collect rain runoff to supplement irrigation.
Develop written production pro- cedures covering cultivation of all crops.
Develop written quality standards and a system of implementation and monitoring.
Maintain written records of all media sources, inputs and quan- tities.
Employ best practices to produce the desired level of plant quality at the lowest possible cost with the least amount of negative environ- mental impact.
Develop a “labeling” system that ensures product traceability from production through shipping and at retail.
Optimize fertility types and applications to maximize plant quality while minimizing use, especially phosphorus, and elimi- nating runoff into the surrounding ecosystem.
Integrated waste management: Implementation of these practices can also have a significant positive impact on reducing overall production costs and can become a source of income.
Reuse or recycle discarded/excess plastic containers.
Use biodegradable or compostable containers.
Implement a “take-back” program for discarded or unsold con- tainers.
Compost excess, discarded or collected organic material (plant and media waste) either on site or at a third-party compost site.
Separate production and employee waste (wood, paper, cardboard, plastic, glass, aluminum, etc.) and recycle accordingly. Many firms use proceeds for employee incen- tive or reward programs.
Make sure chemicals or pesticides that are no longer permitted or used are disposed of according to EPA and local regulations.
Ensure that used pesticide con- tainers are disposed of in accor- dance with EPA and local regu- lations.
When disposing of or recycling industrial or maintenance waste (oil, fuel, solvents, etc.), ensure all EPA and local requirements are followed.
Employee and community relations. This is usually an area where many business owners struggle to understand the relationship to sustainability and how it directly impacts the environment. Usually, enhancements or additions in these areas are recognized as simply increasing costs without a significant, measurable return to the business.
Social responsibility is seen as probably the most important cornerstone of sustainability on a global basis and must be included in any certification standard that has international recognition and acceptance. In industrial nations, most sustainability requirements of social responsibility are met or exceeded by adherence to the local, state and federal labor laws. This is clearly not the case in many non-industrial nations, where a majority of cut flowers, vegetative young plants and seed stocks originate. That said, it doesn’t mean that industrial nations should ignore this area of sustainability.
To be truly sustainable, simply maintaining existing levels of compliance is not acceptable. Consistent progress and improvement must be accomplished in all the areas related to sustainability. Here are a few suggestions on how to make improvements or at least quantify the success of your existing efforts in the area of social responsibility.
Have a written employee hand- book that ensures equal opportu- nity and nondiscrimination. It should also be available in the lan- guages your employees speak.
Make sure that hiring and employment policies, OSHA reg- ulations, nondiscrimination, sexual harassment, grievance, child labor, workplace condition and freedom of association policies are clearly posted for your employees.
Have a written worker-training program and schedule.
Have written worker chemical- handling and safety-training pro- grams.
Make sure workers have access to medical-safety kits and medical assistance in an emergency.
Ensure that workers, upon employment, receive written noti- fication of their hire date, job description and compensation rate and notification of whether your state recognizes “employ- ment at will.”
Provide a clean and safe work environment, including adequate break areas and restroom facili- ties.
If possible, give preference to hiring locally.
When feasible, purchase inputs locally.
Support and contribute to the local infrastructure whenever possible.
Calculate the impact of the pro- duction facility on the local com- munity and mitigate any negative effects.
The path to sustainability (and certification) does not have a start and finish. It is a journey that requires constant evaluation and attention to all areas. Every business has a starting point for every category pertaining to sustainability, and attaining 100 percent in each category is neither required nor is it likely possible.
But making positive improvements — even small ones — in each of these categories will ensure your business remains viable for generations to come.