For corporations to make progress on environmental sustainability, regulatory compliance is important but just one part of the picture. The private sector has recognized the importance of sustainability, and many businesses acknowledge the government has a role in setting policy framework and enabling environmental initiatives. In turn, the Environmental Protection Agency has begun a project founded on greater engagement with industry, said Jeff Potent, environmental protection specialist for the EPA's Office of Wastewater Management, during his presentation on corporate responsibility at the Animal Agriculture Sustainability Summit, held during the 2014 International Production & Processing Expo. The Office of Wastewater Management is developing a Livestock Water Quality Blueprint that relies heavily on partnerships, discussion and cooperation to optimize environmental outcomes.
"Traditional approaches to risk reduction and pollution control can only go so far to deliver the long-term and broad environmental quality we seek. Regulations have their place, but they are limited. We want to broaden the way we engage with industry," Potent remarked.
While the blueprint of a strategic plan for 2014-2018 is still being drafted, Potent shared some of its key initiatives to reduce nutrient pollution through better manure management. He also discussed a number of other collaborative projects that are underway, such as the production of a best management practices video on reducing water quality impacts being developed by U.S. Poultry & Egg Association. Further, plans call for collaboration with hog producers on a record keeping program that would be beneficial not only for regulatory compliance but also as a tool for reducing costs and risks and providing feedback to customers.
The "four P's" of sustainability-people, planet, poultry and progress-are interdependent and must all be balanced to understand the complexity of any issue under the sustainability umbrella, observed Paul Helgeson, sustainability manager for GNP Company, during his presentation on "Feed Ingredient Sourcing: A Hot Spot for a Life Cycle Analysis." One way of doing this is to look at the life cycle of a product, identifying each step to determine which step a company can directly control and which step it might be able to influence or modify.
A large portion of the carbon footprint at GNP is incurred from growing corn and other feed, while packaging and operations are also significant components. Engaging with suppliers is essential for making sustainability inroads in these complex areas, Helgeson observed. He also suggested that looking at problems in more than one way will ultimately help in reaching solutions. Seek input from "lumpers," those who see the big picture and the connections between different components, and from the "dividers," those who can break difficult challenges into solvable steps.
In her presentation on "Consumer/Public Engagement: What Drives Your Message," Carrie Mess, a dairy farmer and blogger from Wisconsin, explained that consumers want to get information from people they can trust, which in the case of animal agriculture typically means the farmers themselves. She shared the importance, though, to offer a "warts and all" look at agriculture instead of trying to gloss over controversial topics. On her blog, "The Adventures of Dairy Carrie," Mess has posted pictures of calves guaranteed to get a favorable response on the cuteness meter but has also posted real pictures of farm operations depicted during a massive snowstorm and how this affected the farm's animals. Social media lets her reach others in agriculture-and many outside of it-who are seeking a trustworthy source of information.
"I ' m telling my story, the story of my farm, instead of letting other people tell it for me," Mess said, adding that by doing this she gains a lot of "influence" in informing the non-farming community about the cattle industry and animal welfare issues. Mess shared her approach of reaching consumers, which conveys the message that farmers are "caring people" and letting consumers know they have choices when they go to the grocery store. "We can influence the buying decision through conversation," Mess noted.