‘Doing Good Today, For Tomorrow’ Becomes Commonplace

Nic Jooste

This European Market column originally appeared in the May 2018 edition of sister publication Produce Business magazine:

In November 2011‭, ‬I presented a congress paper on corporate social responsibility in Lima‭, ‬Peru‭. ‬I used the following quote‭: ‬‘Very soon‭, ‬there will only be two types of fresh produce companies‭. ‬Bankrupt companies‭, ‬and companies that are serious about sustainability and corporate social responsibility‭ (‬CSR‭).‬’‭ ‬Six years down the line‭, ‬it seems fitting to check whether I was right‭.  ‬

When I started my journey of discovery in terms of sustainability and social and environmental responsibility in 2003‭, ‬I encountered a big problem‭. ‬It seemed as if the entire concept of CSR had been developed by academics‭, ‬with a focus on making sure‭ ‬‘normal people’‭ ‬did not understand it‭.‬

The textbooks said‭: ‬‘Corporate social responsibility is a business model whereby a company decides voluntarily to contribute to a better society and‭ ‬a cleaner environment‭, ‬and to integrate social and environmental concerns in its business operations and in the communication with its stakeholders‭.‬’‭ ‬I summed it up in 5‭ ‬words‭:‬‭ ‬‘Doing good today‭, ‬for tomorrow‭.‬’‭ ‬

Sustainability was described as‭:‬‭ ‬‘The capacity to endure‭. ‬For humans‭, ‬sustainability is the long-term maintenance of well-being‭, ‬which has environmental‭, ‬economic‭ ‬and social dimensions‭, ‬and encompasses the concept of stewardship‭, ‬the responsible management of resource use‭. ‬In ecology‭, ‬sustainability describes how biological systems remain diverse and productive over time‭, ‬a necessary precondition for human well-being‭.‬’‭ ‬To which I said‭: ‬‘Making what we have last as long as possible‭.‬’‭ ‬

That was the academic angle‭, ‬but what was happening at the coalface/workplace in the fresh produce industry at the time‭? ‬Independent retail reports in 2009/2010‭ ‬stated‭:‬

  • Retailers view their involvement in sustainability issues as their moral responsibility‭, ‬because they influence consumers all over the world‭.  ‬
  • Sustainability‭, ‬corporate social responsibility and compliance issues are being added to the corporate agenda‭.  ‬
  • Retailers are committing more resources to CSR‭. ‬
  • Consumer trends are moving toward more socially responsible products‭. ‬
  • Retailers are asking of their suppliers‭: ‬‘With whom do you need to meet and collaborate to help develop or enhance the sustainability work‭.‬’‭ ‬
  • These reports showed something was indeed happening‭. ‬Then‭, ‬by the end of 2011‭, ‬another report stated by 2016‭: ‬
  • Sustainability and the environment will become the most talked about issue in fresh produce marketing‭.  ‬
  • Consumers will demand clarity on‭ ‬‘sustainable value‭.‬’‭ ‬They will not be fooled anymore by the quick-win issues such as a paper bag with a nice slogan on it‭. ‬
  • Health and wellness will become the single most important factor‭. ‬
  • The external cosmetic factor of a product will become less important‭, ‬while the origin‭, ‬growing and supply chain conditions will‭ ‬provide the main marketing argument in favor of buying the product‭.‬‭  ‬

So‭, ‬here we are in 2018‭ ‬and we are really happy the predictions have come true‭. ‬CSR is now commonplace in Europe‭, ‬and many companies have developed a CSR strategy in one form or another‭. ‬Even more exciting is the fact a number of new trends have emerged‭. ‬

  • CSR is increasingly being extended to public relations and communications departments‭.  ‬I applaud this‭, ‬because how else can one‭ ‬create a strong movement of change‭? ‬
  • Consumers have become strongly empowered and highly critical of the‭ ‬‘stories’‭ ‬that companies are selling‭. ‬Big business‭ (‬and big brands‭) ‬cannot count blindly on the consumer’s loyalty‭. ‬Transparency and honesty are key issues‭. ‬
  • The pressure is on‭, ‬and retailers are increasing their demands in terms of the fresh produce they source‭. ‬Dutch retailers Jumbo‭ ‬and Plus‭, ‬as well as German discounter Aldi have‭  ‬announced by 2019‭ ‬all their fruit and vegetable growers should be certified according to the Milieukeur scheme‭, ‬the Dutch environmental quality label for sustainable products and services‭. ‬Multinational Albert Heijn made this choice in 2016‭.‬
  • Together with retailers Co-op‭, ‬Edeka‭, ‬Lidl‭, ‬Metro and Migros‭, ‬the GlobalGAP organization developed GRASP‭, ‬a certification scheme‭ ‬that focuses on almost all aspects of worker and working conditions on the farm‭. ‬Today‭, ‬GRASP is compulsory if one wants to supply fresh produce to European retailers‭. ‬
  • Retailers have started expanding their range of sustainable fresh food products‭. ‬From 2020‭, ‬Jumbo only will sell dairy products‭ ‬made from meadow milk‭. ‬
  • Also agribusiness companies are taking a leading role‭. ‬The Dutch agricultural cooperative Agrifirm has developed a new crop protection strategy that will ensure a substantial‭  ‬reduction of the environmental impact of plant protection products‭. ‬
  • With its mission‭, ‬‘Growing a better world together‭,‬’‭ ‬the leading Dutch agricultural bank Rabobank presents itself as a financial institution that takes a firm stand for food security‭. ‬It is a worldwide campaign aimed at the Dutch farmer‭.‬
  • ‘Global goals determine the agenda‭.‬’‭ ‬Social issues and food security in the field of food production have become crucial for companies who are serious about CSR‭. ‬
  • ‘Ethics is back‭.‬’‭ ‬Companies are expected to perform their activities in an ethical manner and are increasingly being judged on the basis of moral‭ ‬and ethical arguments‭.‬

Long live‭ ‬‘Doing good today‭, ‬for tomorrow’‭ ‬and‭ ‬‘Making what we have last as long as possible‭.‬’ ‭      

Nic Jooste is the director of marketing and CSR at Cool Fresh International‭, ‬a Rotterdam-based global marketing organization for‭ ‬fresh produce‭.  ‬



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