Okay, what exactly is this concept called sustainability? It's probably helpful to talk about it a bit, especially with big players like WalMart entering the organic arena.
Sustainability means meeting the needs of the present without having a negative impact on the future. Sounds like organic farming, doesn’t it? Well, not quite. Although the differences between sustainability and organic may seem subtle, they are important to recognize as more and more large companies jump on the organic bandwagon.
Sustainability is a non-regulated philosophy that includes organic farming principles of crop rotation, biodiversity, soil fertility, and natural pest control.
What’s more, sustainable farming extends its commitment to minimal environmental impact by supporting the local community, treating workers fairly and with dignity, allowing animals to express their true natures (a chicken free to express its chickenness, for instance, by pecking, scratching and eating bugs), and restricting its reliance on fossil fuels.
In contrast, large corporations with certified organic products have found ways to confine dairy cows, limit crop diversity, make no claims about positive worker treatment, and transport products long distances. Additionally, the USDA-certified organic designation has no requirements about time from harvest to market, or distance traveled.
The 20% year-over-year growth of the organic marketplace is obviously great news for our healthy food choices and the environment, and the fact that organic products are found in mainstream supermarket aisles is a big step in the right direction. With increased awareness of sustainability issues, we as consumers can help save family farms and encourage large corporations to choose farming practices that will benefit our local communities, preserve our environment for future generations and reduce our dependence on non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels.
What You Can Do Now
1. Be aware. Awareness is the first step towards action, and the action you take may simply be adding your voice of concern about certain practices, and thereby helping to change them, or making decisions with your dollars that send strong messages.
2. Choose local. Many in the "beyond organic" community are actually saying that when given the choice between local/non-organic and cross-country/organic, choose the local. For me, I'm still choosing cross-country when given that choice because I just don't want the pesticides, but this is something to think about, and perhaps research more.
3. Look further. The concept of sustainability has absolutely swept through the corporate community in the last few years. Many major corporations now have corporate sustainability measurement metrics that they report either as a separate annual report or as part of their general annual report. Corporate sustainability, also called triple-bottom-line sustainability, involves commitment to profit, people and planet (environment) rather than just to profit. You can often find corporate sustainability clearly listed on corporatewebsites. See www.sustainability.ups.com for a great example of a company that continually makes seemingly small changes that literally rock the world in a positive way.
Want a great introduction to corporate sustainability? Read Paul Dolan's book, True to Our Roots: Fermenting a Business Revolution.