Sustainable products and environmentally sound business practices are more important to today's consumers than ever before, and much of the attention when it comes to ecological issues is centered on the food industry. More than any other products in the consumer goods space, food has a clear, unmistakable tie with the environment. Through the meals they eat and the groceries they purchase, even people who live in urban areas have direct interaction with farming and agriculture.
For these reasons, organizations at a variety of points in the food distribution chain have moved toward green practices - but with so much variation in the size and scope of these different operations, it should come as no surprise that there's more than one way of thinking about sustainability in this sector. Among the various strategic sourcing methods eco-minded food producers have adopted, two have proven particularly popular and instructive.
1. Large, sustainable supplier network
Major corporations specializing in food products have had to ask themselves a critical question: How can sustainability be implemented across a large and multifaceted global sourcing network? A number of companies - including industry giants Hershey and McDonald's - have made public commitments to strive toward a more eco-friendly procurement process and align themselves with suppliers that can aid in this endeavor.
Kellogg recently joined this movement by announcing its intention to procure 100 percent of its palm oil from sustainable and traceable sources. The company has set a deadline of Dec. 31, 2015, for suppliers to comply with its new requirements or demonstrate that they are working toward a plan to get their operations in line with Kellogg's expectations.
2. Small-scale, local procurement
Major firms' efforts to adopt green procurement strategies are essential to reducing environmental impact across the food industry. But not all food-related acts take place between consumers and large corporations like Kellogg. Restaurants with smaller supplier networks also need to think about how they'll approach sustainability.
Hyper-local sourcing has been an immensely popular trend among restaurants in recent years, with highly regarded eateries such as Copenhagen's Noma adopting strictly local sourcing policies that involve foraging and fostering close relationships with nearby farms. However, this strategy also presents considerable challenges when it comes to spend management. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Trevett Hooper, chef at local restaurant Legume, is rethinking his farm-to-table approach in light of costs, especially as quality products from other sources become available.
Ultimately, the ideal sustainability strategy depends on the specific budgetary and operational needs of the business, as well as the expectations of its customer base.