Given increasing pressure from disparate groups (citizens, consumers, nonprofit groups, government, investors, shareholders, etc.), corporations have been actively attempting to incorporate the elements of sustainability, environment, economics, and social issues into the fabric of corporate strategy.  Yet, despite greater and more concrete expectations from investors and the public, the incorporation of sustainability and the inherently lofty goals that go along with it remain only partly accomplished, and in some cases altogether elusive for some companies. Part of the problem lies in the misappropriation of the term sustainability to stand for anything done in service of “green PR”.  In other cases, sustainability has simply not been properly defined for use in driving corporate strategic planning.  Without a way of defining sustainability in the corporate context, it is difficult to know how to measure and achieve it.

That “it” is what myriad consultants and companies have wrestled with in the last two decades in particular.  In the tangle of software programs, consultant reports, and sustainability plans, what has been missing is a connected set of tools and methods that enable a streamlined and simplified way of collecting and managing data, measuring a company’s baseline environmental footprint, and deciding which set of interventions to undertake to decrease that footprint and improve overall sustainability.

In the case of supply chain greening, there are untapped opportunities to be found.Companies are not often viewed in terms of their consumption patterns, yet it remains true that company purchases on a large scale do have substantial environmental impacts. The results of my dissertation (available for viewing on this website), show that even mundane and typical purchases such as food can have large impacts worth assessing for potential reductions. Leveraging purchasing power to reduce these impacts can also engender changes in food systems that are not as possible with individual consumers.  If companies truly want to “think globally” and “act locally”, they should begin by eating locally.  Sourcing of food, where possible, from local and organic producers could reap benefits far beyond fresher, more nutritious food for employees.  Organic farming is known to create soils with as much as 25% greater sink capacity (Pimentel 2005; Pimentel et al. 2005).  These climate change benefits are something that could add to any company’s image as a sustainable leader.  Why follow, when one could lead the way?  Many would benefit from research into policies that would support and reward these types of agriculture and these types of purchasing decisions that have significant multiplier effects in economic, environmental and social realms.  Research could also extend into finding new ways to increase the yield of organic crops.  Until that time, existing law must be viewed as a call to greater levels of responsibility.

The Citizens’ United decision by the Supreme Court promoting companies as “people” may have created opportunities for financial manipulation and excess, yet they also presented an imperative that requires a new level of citizen participation.  Companies, as larger consumers, must begin to fold into their decision making and purchasing habits, society’s concerns about climate change, the epidemic of adult and childhood obesity, food deserts, declining nutritional value in mass-produced foods, and the very real public health crisis emerging from overuse of antimicrobials in concentrated animal feeding operations.  These problems require the efforts of those with more purchasing power to influence the direction of food production to create long-term, positive changes.  If a company were to conduct a decision analysis that reflected the importance of positive economic, health, and environmental benefits from sourcing food locally, this would likely generate a set of possible directions that would lead to greater sustainability, in the true sense of that word.  Food studies that fold in the life cycle impacts of antimicrobial production will certainly provide the necessary data to properly compare the environmental, economic, social, and health impacts of mass-produced proteins with those from organically produced proteins.  This information has been lacking and would allow for a fair comparison, which would then better inform the types of decisions that will be necessary to generate large-scale, sustainable change.