Off the Back Burner By Tim Hodson

Last year, as the economy began to head south, the industry buzz about sustainability quieted down considerably.

Many growers turned their attention to nothing but dollars and cents and kind of back-burnered their sustainability initiatives.

It’s too bad because many of these eco-friendly practices have a definite financial return — and they just make good business sense!

Check out the article on Van Wingerden Greenhouses in the September issue of GPN that arrived with this issue of Big Grower. Van Wingerden Greenhouses operates a more than 10-acre facility that houses a young plant division, finished division and independent retail garden center. Van Wingerden Greenhouses received the 2009 GPN/OFA Sustainability Progress Award at OFA Short Course in July.

As owner Mike Van Wingerden told us, “We have chosen to go the sustainable route because, for the most part, it makes economical sense.” They have seen considerable cost savings by doing such things as collecting and reusing rainwater, burning wood pellets to heat their greenhouses and using beneficials to control greenhouse pests and reduce chemical usage. And not only are they seeing costs go down, but they are also seeing product quality go up!

Sustainability: It just makes sense, doesn’t it?

The Wal-Mart Index

In other sustainability news, Wal-Mart recently announced the creation of a new sustainability index. According to the company, this new rating system “is expected to lead to higher quality, lower costs and measure the sustainability of products and help customers live better in the 21st century.”

The retailer said it will provide all of its suppliers with a 15-question survey to evaluate the environmental impact of every product it sells. The survey questions will be divided into four categories: energy and climate; natural resources; material efficiency; and people and community.

In making the announcement, Mike Duke, Wal-Mart’s president and CEO, said “The index will bring about a more transparent supply chain, drive product innovation and, ultimately, provide consumers the information they need to assess the sustainability of products. If we work together, we can create a new retail standard.”

Creating a universal sustainability rating system is a huge undertaking, and it will be interesting to see how consumers react.

Are you growing product for Wal-Mart? Have you received your questionnaire yet? What do you think of this initiative?

Drop me a line at [email protected] and let me know.

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