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News and analysis on the global poultry
and animal feed industries.
on April 28, 2011
Editor's Comment

Poultry sustainability not for wimps

Sustainability is real, said Tyson Foods' chief environmental, health and safety officer, and it has a tangible impact on poultry companies.

What Kevin Igli, senior vice president and chief environmental, health and safety officer for Tyson Foods, actually said was, “Environmental management is not for wimps.”

Igli, who was at the Environmental Management Seminar, was talking about what it takes for a poultry company to be truly sustainable and what’s needed from managers in a discipline whose role is gaining recognition but still sometimes misunderstood.

Real sustainability  

Sustainability is real and has real results. “It is extremely real,” Igli said, “and this should be kept in perspective.” It has a big impact, he said, on both the natural environment and poultry companies, themselves.

Sustainability, and the perceptions surrounding it, impacts a poultry company’s relations with its corporate team members, customers and consumers, investors, regulatory agencies, non-government organizations, supply partners and local communities.

Just how real becomes crystal clear for poultry companies when they go about seeking sites for new facilities, attracting workers, accessing capital, working to influence legislation and regulations, or even getting a municipal wastewater permit.

Tyson’s quadruple bottom line  

It helps to keep the big picture in view, on a daily basis. As an organization, Tyson Foods approaches sustainability from the quadruple bottom line: planet, products, people and profit. Tyson makes this approach more actionable with the following mantra:

  • Doing the right thing in all aspects
  • Emphasizing people, planet, products and profit
  • Focusing on the bottom line

Being able to generate and manage results in an area of responsibility that is inherently broad and difficult to quantify takes a mixture of toughness and cooperativeness, according to Igli.

Being tough inside the corporation  

Environmental management is only one aspect of a poultry company being sustainable, Igli said, but getting respect inside your own company is the first step to getting real results.

“You have to be tough and focused,” he said, but there’s also the need to balance corporate objectives with those of operational teams in a company. “It’s a partnership that involves a constant tension.”

Gaining the respect of operational team members, in fact, is essential to making the business more sustainable and better environmentally. “This requires being prepared, professional and viewed internally as an expert,” he explained.

It also requires a measure of managerial nosiness and persistence to learn what is really going on in a company’s operations. Sometimes, what is said is not really what is being done operationally.

Outside the corporate walls  

Dealing with governmental regulatory agencies, NGOs, and municipalities also requires toughness. It often means “getting in their face” – at EPA or a NGO – in a constructive manner, Igli said. It means being vigilant, asking questions, and challenging erroneous information when it rears its head.

Sustainability helps define companies  

There are other sides to sustainability, which help define Tyson Foods or any company ready to work at it. Igli gave an example for Tyson Foods – a project in Sub-Saharan Africa where the company is sharing knowledge and technical expertise to help build simple block-and-timber poultry houses for egg production.

Tyson is providing insight to modern business principles there that create a sustainable model to create employment opportunities. The company is also teaching skills in animal husbandry, resource procurement and biosecurity. This is in a part of the world where malnutrition is rampant, especially among children. Eggs are nutritious and affordable protein.

As Igli likes to say about a company’s sustainability: It describes who we are (ethics and people), what we do (food safety, animal well-being, environment, safety and health) and how we do it (shareholders, supply chain and communities).

It's good to be tough enough to care and do something about it.

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