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A five-step process to sustainability

Nic Jooste
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Originally printed in the March 2021 issue of Produce Business.

In my column of February 2021 (Sustainability & CSR: What Is It All About?), I promised I would present a 5-step plan that fresh produce companies can use to get started on the road to sustainability.

Nic Jooste

In most sectors of the business world, corporate social responsibility is becoming crucial to commercial survival. As I explained in my previous column, it is expected that soon all companies will have a statutory responsibility to supply due diligence evidence of its strategies and action plans regarding sustainability. To preempt this, I strongly advise companies that are serious about the future to orientate themselves on the following practical, no-nonsense, 5-step plan that can be tailor-made for any company.

First off, not everybody needs to immediately restructure their companies and turn into activists. Becoming a change agent for social and environmental good can be achieved by taking small steps. Empowering and enabling your company to become a champion for sustainability requires you to respect not only your own, but also every employees’ own set of unique circumstances. Most importantly, you should implement changes with minimum interference in your employees’ daily tasks.

This journey to sustainability consists of five steps: Discovery; Alignment; Establishing Priorities; Implementation; Looking, Learning and Adapting.


Step 1 — Discovery: In the discovery phase, it is important to ask questions, some of which might be confrontational. What is the story behind you and your business? How do you see your purpose in life? What drives you to do what you do? What are the specific characteristics (economic, social, environmental) of the country/industry/sector in which your company is active? This phase provides the backbone for all subsequent phases.

Step 2 — Alignment: In the alignment phase, you should identify and investigate the characteristics of the various stakeholders that play a role in the success of your business. A stakeholder is any individual, organization or company that has a vested interest in your business and can potentially either affect or be affected by your business operations and performance. Your stakeholders can be both internal and external to your company. By asking critical questions, you will identify areas and opportunities in which you and your stakeholders can collaborate to create sustainable practices and aligned projects.

Step 3 — Establishing Priorities: This step becomes a bit more tricky. You need to analyze and prioritize the broad actions you and your company, in collaboration with your stakeholders, could take to ensure effective participation in sustainability. You should specifically consider the close interaction that sustainability has with your (and your stakeholders’) commercial strategy and objectives. First focus should be on options with a high win-win component. Also think about local and international frameworks, legislation and standards. Your actions should deliver positive commercial impact for your company, as well as for the chosen areas of sustainability (social or environmental).

These three steps will provide you with three sets of information: (a) You and your company’s purpose and corporate DNA, as well as the processes that affect your performance; (b) The relationship with internal and external stakeholders (employees, suppliers, government, etc), as well as the opportunities for successful collaboration; (c) The formal playing field and context within which you and your company operate and which allow you to execute a strategy for commercial success and engagement in sustainability.

Step 4 — Implementation: This step requires you to be sensitive to the challenges of your employees’ daily commercial operations. Based on the information gathered in steps 1 to 3, you and your employees should identify those actions that can fast-track your company to sustainability. Work closely with your employees to collate all information into a working document that contains objectives, actions, deadlines, and responsibilities. Make sure that the implementation phase is done with minimum interference in your employees’ tasks. Otherwise it could lead to a lower level of acceptance of your good intentions.

Step 5 — Looking, Learning and Adapting In this final phase, you should assist your employees to look at sustainability from a different perspective. By helping them to ‘look, learn and adapt,’ you can embed an approach in which your employees will create their own heritage in terms of sustainability. Everybody (management, employees, and external stakeholders) should be guided sensitively to work together to achieve ongoing successes, with commerce and sustainability interlinked. Learn some coaching abilities so that you can assist your employees to embrace change and be on the lookout for ways in which internal and external relationships and processes can be improved for the benefit of the company, the workforce, and the world.

If you follow all of these steps, your efforts should achieve really rewarding results.

  • A clear sense of direction with an inspiring purpose and strategy.
  • Internal respect for your company values.
  • A better understanding of your decision-making processes.
  • A clear road map for addressing the issues that have an impact on the organization.
  • A clear focus on the specific objectives that you want in terms of positive outcomes for people, planet and profit.
  • Practical supply chain collaboration across a broad base of stakeholders.
  • Embedding no-nonsense sustainability in the daily operations of your company.
  • If done properly, this uncomplicated approach can create powerful possibilities for you, your company, and the world.

Nic Jooste is owner of NJ Immersed, a fresh produce marketing and CSR specialist based in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

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