When 'corporate' sustainability clashes with ecological sustainability

Thanks to TreeHugger for reminding me that, right now, corporate sustainability agendas may be at odds with ecological sustainability goals.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor on

Came back from vacation on Monday to find that I had managed to inspire a writer over at TreeHugger to respond to my recent post calling out a corporate sustainability report published by Tyson, the food production company. In that post, I remarked on several metrics that I perceived as positive from a business standpoint, including Tyson's work to reduce water consumption as well as its research into how to create biofuels out of inedible animal parts.

The TreeHugger writer, Matthew McDermott, suggests that my focus on the business aspects of these two things overlooks a huge problem. He writes:

"While utilizing the waste products of a particular process to create renewable energy is generally a really great thing, when the process that creates the waste has such huge animal rights and environmental problems in the first place, it really can't be called ecologically sustainably by any stretch of the word."

Let's be clear, I am absolutely thrilled to have this kind of attention. I also absolutely agree with Mr. McDermott that my analysis was naive. In looking at the high-level business/economic impact of these metrics, I skipped entirely over the fact that some of these policies gloss over some bigger issue that any focus on sustainability should include a focus on the conditions for animals.

Believe it or not, I AM on the same planet as Mr. McDermott when it comes to rethinking my status as a carnivore whenever I see pictures like the one below. Factory farming at its worst, I suppose. My father doesn't call me a "treehugger" for nothing.

We need nothing short of an complete overhaul of what's going on in food production. But going back to the days when we all prepared our meals from produce and animals cultivated on our own patch of green isn't an option, either. So what is?

While I was debating this issue with my editor, he came across this piece from Time magazine, "Is Another Food Crisis Coming." The essay addresses the fact that certain commodity prices for things like wheat are soaring right now, which does not bode well for our collective ability to feed the world. The Time author argues that businesses and governments have neglected the business of agriculture over the past three decades, when it should have been investing in technologies for farms to make the most of their land and yields -- in the most environmentally sensible and sensitive way possible. I would definitely add businesses that make their living off meat or fish production to this list of those responsible for getting on the ball.

Let's be realistic: There's no way that everyone in the world will take a vegetarian vow, so we need to focus on using all the great information technologies that are at our disposal to make food production businesses both more profitable AND more sustainable -- and not at the expense of those with no voice to protest.

Know any businesses that have a great story around agri-sustainability or more environmentally sustainable meat production? One example might be Local Ocean, a company that is working on technology to help "harvest" saltwater fish in an aquaculture facility in New York state. Although I have my doubts about how the fish themselves feel about this process. Want to tell me who else is doing a good (or bad job)? Please send an email to heather@heatherclancy.com.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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