What does the word "sustainable" mean to your business? To Stahlbush Island Farms in Willamette Valley, Ore., sustainability is the mortar that holds its entire business together – all 5,000 GMO-free acres of land, plus its processing facilities, which supply some 400 manufacturers worldwide.
In 1997, 12 years after the company began with just two crops, Stahlbush was named the first farm to become Certified Sustainable by the Food Alliance. If you ask the staff how they did it, well, they'll tell you.
"For us, being first in anything is like an invitation," said Director of Sales and Marketing Debbie Cozzetto. "We hope it's an invitation for other people to join us."
By "join us," Cozzetto means making a commitment to sustainability, which the company clearly defines, borrowing from a United Nations 1987 environmental report, as: "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." This is a large task, considering all its sustainable initiatives. A sampling:
- North America's first produce-based biogas plant, which turns the farm's waste into electricity for about 1,100 homes, nearly twice what the farm and food-processing plant use in a year
- GPS-guided tractors that, led by satellites, accurately avoid treading where they've already been, thereby using less fuel and being kinder to the ground
- Treating employees fairly, monitoring their work hours and giving them the tools they need to be successful
- Biodegradable retail packaging for its frozen fruits and vegetables. "We were the first ones to come out with it," Cozzetto said. "We got so many phone calls from other processors who said, ‘Hey are you going to tell [how you make them]?' And we said, ‘Absolutely!'"
Cozzetto said there are challenges to being sustainable, but for the most part they don't involve actually being sustainable. Rather, it's trying to keep an eye on all the initiatives at once that's the challenge. "We're not perfect," she said. Her advice? "Step by step – do one thing, then grow on that procedure. It's an ongoing commitment."