The Challenge of Sustainability

The concept of sustainability — meeting the needs of the present without limiting the ability of future generations to do the same — is becoming a driving force in business, and snack food companies were strongly encouraged to get on board during the Snack Food Association’s Management Workshop.
Today’s reality, according to Don Carli of the Institute for Sustainable Communications, is that pressure from retail customers along with the government and even consumers means that product manufacturers must find ways to reduce their own “carbon footprint,” limiting their impact on energy, the environment and natural resources in every aspect of their operations, including the supply chain.
Carli emphasized new policies established by Wal-Mart that will require their vendors to meet specific sustainability requirements if they want to do business with the world’s largest retailer. He pointed out that governments at virtually every level have passed or are considering legislation requiring companies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and even taxing those emissions.
Consumers and the next generation of employees all care, as well, Carli said, and it’s not enough for a company to make positive statements about being concerned about the environment.
“All it takes is somebody with a cell phone camera to expose the conflict between what a company is saying and doing,” he warned. “The next thing you know, it’s on a blog, and then it’s on Fox News. And that affects investors, insurers and brand owners.”
“Sustainability and the way you address it will increasingly determine the value of your brand,” Carli said. “It is the new IQ test for management.”
What does this mean for snack food companies in terms of product development?
Carli pointed out that a major opportunity is to provide products for people on the move — consumers living a fast-paced lifestyle who want to snack on the go.
“Have you thought about snacks for bikers?” he asked. “How about products for people riding mass transit?”
Most companies, he said, focus initially on operations — cutting waste, conserving energy. But the overall impact from these efforts amounts to only about a 10% benefit, and then if there is not support and direction from top management, even those efforts can die on the vine.
“The real impact,” said Carli, “is in your supply chain and the use of your product. Whatever you do, it’s got to make sense with your current value proposition. It’s got to be relevant and meaningful.”