Sustainability at Neal Mast & Son Greenhouses
The concept of sustainability at Neal Mast Greenhouses (NMG) goes back to 2007 and started with a request from one of our customers to attend a meeting in Dallas, Texas. We met with other growers to discuss the topic of sustainability, along with representatives from a company called Scientific Certifications. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the ideas of sustainability and certification; we were invited because of our ability to think outside the box and our willingness to try new things.
Sustainability had always been important to NMG; we just didn’t call it that. We always said we have to be good stewards of our resources, which included our purchasing practices, reducing shrink and eliminating waste. We felt it wasn’t right to waste things and at this meeting, we learned a new word — sustainability.
We learned about Veriflora at this meeting and then tasked a large team of people at NMG to spend the fall of 2007 getting all the documentation together to meet this gold standard certification in sustainable growing. We were the first grower to get this certification in the U.S. in the beginning of 2008.
NMG has recertified each year since then via an annual recertification audit. No one requires us to do this and, although a costly certification, we feel it is the right thing to do. We don’t pursue this to be recognized by our customers. Our view was that if this is what you believe and how you want to operate, then have a third party come in and verify that you are doing the right things. We also received our organic certification in 2009.
In fall 2009, we decided Veriflora is good, but being a “sustainable business” is really more than this. We started working on other projects and wrapped them together in an initiative we call Project Greenhouse. We later formed a more formalized group called the Sustainability Team in fall 2010. The motivation behind this group was to find ways we can start getting our people in the company engaged and involved.
REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE
Some of our early initiatives were focused on recycling. In 2011, we committed to an aggressive recycling goal (1,000 tons) and reduction of 50% in solid waste disposal. NMG reached 1,000 tons in July of 2016 and a 63% reduction in disposal. In 2019, we raised that goal to 2,500 tons. From our 2011 inception through December 2022, NMG has eliminated 1,627 tons of trash from being sent to the landfill, 65% of our new goal. We also focused on each department being able to contribute and be involved.
To further promote these initiatives and motivate our team, we provided giveaways such as LED light bulbs and reusable grocery bags, along with executing water boom projects and reusing pallets. While our initial focus was on recycling, we saw the importance of expanding or sustainable efforts to encompass three pillars: People, Planet and Profit.
While many focus on just the planet, we feel people and profit play an equally important role. Measuring your carbon footprint or recycling efforts is a good way to start, but sustainability is more than that.
Our sustainability team works on various initiatives throughout the year. All of these initiatives are captured in our Corporate Sustainability Report, an annual publication posted on our website. The Sustainability Team organizes Sustainability Week, a week in the fall dedicated to sustainability efforts. We have a blood drive, flu shot clinic, company-wide training day, a lunch-and-learn and a workshop. All of these things are ways for us to promote sustainability and educate our team on ways they can expand sustainable efforts into their personal lives. Overall, we want to show employees how they create value and lead to the success of the company.
We have a continued focus on education, development and employee engagement. We not only educate about sustainable practices but also give our employees an opportunity to further their knowledge and development in areas outside of sustainability while offering a secure employment opportunity. Profitability ties into it in many ways but, in general, ensuring our profitability also ensures a secure work environment. Employees are able to earn a living and provide for their families.
WHERE TO BEGIN
Overall sustainability is a journey, not just a goal. Setting a recycling goal or carbon neutral goal is a good start, but it’s important to show people how they can contribute to sustainability in the roles they are in. Providing opportunities to recycle at work, along with consistent educational materials, will not only expand a company’s sustainable efforts but will also transfer to an employee’s home. We look at a broad range of sustainability, versus just focusing on one goal; together all of the pieces allow sustainability efforts and initiatives to organically happen in each department. This gives every member of our team the ability to create additional ideas, looking at processes, etc., asking themselves if this was sustainable.
Our advice for any company that is looking into starting or expanding their sustainable efforts would be to start with a recycling goal or a different sustainable goal that you can track, and then share your progress with the rest of your team. Showing them that their contributions mean something, and being able to track and share your progress, helps to introduce the concept of sustainability.
Furthermore, actively involving each department and educating them on various aspects of sustainability often will spark new ideas and translate into adding or increasing sustainable efforts at home. A team of volunteers comprises our Sustainability Team. This group of individuals continues to develop and drive our sustainability. You’d be surprised that many sustainable efforts are cost neutral, so don’t let cost prevent you from starting.
Starting with small, achievable goals that your team can see the progress of will create a waterfall effect, inspiring employees to look for ways to further contribute both at work and at home. Soon, you will have a committee of volunteers that can shape and form your future of sustainability.
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