Finding ROI in sustainability efforts remains tough

Consumers want to know more about a company’s sustainability efforts.

While it’s still difficult to measure ROI, produce companies should make an investment and have a plan to telling consumers about their efforts.

Andy Ach, environmental initiatives expert and former director of environmental outreach and strategy for Ford Motor Company, said in a Produce Marketing Association webinar June 26 that Ford – and the auto industry in general – isn’t doing enough to tell consumers about their sustainability efforts.

But it’s been a priority for several decades, and he’s proud of the change in mindset he was a part of at Ford. He doesn’t see sustainability actions as optional.

“If you don’t get rewarded for being green,” he said, “you may not get punished for not being green.”

Another presenter, John Bovay, assistant professor of agriculture economics at University of Connecticut, said there are three important aspects of sustainability, and a company should do its best to measure its success in these areas:
-economic viability- being able to stay profitable and in business in the long run;
-environmental- protecting resources and valuing open spaces; and
-social- keeping food affordable, healthy, and treating workers and local communities respectfully.

“There’s food ‘non sense,’ (which is) non-sensory attributes of food that consumers care about,” Bovay said, and food companies need to be able to clearly communicate these to consumers.

He said one way to improve return on investment is to look into government grants and subsidies, as there are many available for sustainable investments.

Last week, Retail Editor Pamela Riemenschneider spoke with Anne-Marie Roerink about consumer demand for sustainable products. While they account for less than 20% of products across the store, they account for more than half of sales growth.

Greg Johnson is Director of Media Development for Blue Book Services