Ben & Jerry's piloted it to manage greenhouse gas emissions at their Vermont plants. The firm used guidance calling for atmospheric carbon levels of 350 parts per million or less to establish a contextual limit and calculated its share of total allowable emissions based on staff size. Annual net annual emissions are assessed against this allowance, guiding ongoing investments in efficiency, green energy and offsets to keep the ice cream maker from warming the planet.
Cabot Creamery Cooperative Inc. has adopted context-based sustainability management on a wide-ranging basis, creating specific metrics sets targeting each site's impacts and operating environment.
Cabot Creamery assessed its fair share of locally available water at its creamery then implemented activities stay within this limit, such as expanding the reuse of manufacturing process water for farm irrigation. (See diagram courtesy of Cabot Creamery Cooperative Inc.)
The company has also applied it to measure and manage climate impact, using facility-level results to prioritize emissions reduction activities such as conservation and renewable energy. Cabot Creamery uses multiple factors to establish allowable impact, such as staff, economic value and production.
Jed Davis, director of sustainability at Cabot Creamery, says the approach delivers benefits and integrity.
"To us, it's really a matter of common sense and honesty," he says. "Without context, you can show a nice track record of continuous improvement, but you can't claim any measure of sustainability … Sustainability claims must not be without context, if avoiding greenwashing is a goal. There is [also] a richness of data that empowers better decisions and strategy because of the ability to prioritize. That should be pleasing to everyone, from CEO to the operations team to the accountants to the sustainability personnel."
Given the convergence of strategic sustainability, stakeholder demands and increasing real-world challenges and opportunities, context-based sustainability management appears to be a promising, on-target approach worthy of wider application.
McElroy welcomes direct inquiries from interested parties. Information is also available from Center for Sustainable Innovation (CSI), where McElroy developed the concept as a graduate student.
Melissa Schweisguth is director of membership development and education for the Food Trade Sustainability Leadership Association and an independent consultant on CSR/sustainability and marketing/communications.
Top image CC licensed by Flickr user blmurch.