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Volm Companies embraces sustainability: Key takeaways from the International Sustainability Summit and a call to action

When it comes to sustainability, progress can sometimes take two steps forward, one step back. There are many reasons for this – and many competing views. However, there is widespread agreement that the important work our industry is doing must not only continue but also accelerate.   

For these reasons, the International Sustainability Summit, which was recently held in Vancouver, British Columbia, was a critically important event. There, industry leaders met to advance discussions on a standardized approach to sustainability for the global fresh produce sector.

Volm Companies had the privilege of attending this gathering, where experts from around the world discussed sustainability challenges for our industry, shared their ideas, and voiced their concerns.

“Given Volm’s ongoing efforts to prioritize sustainable options, we took a keen interest in the summit discussions,” Leah Lex, Sustainability Manager at Volm Companies. :And while some of our beliefs were reinforced at these meetings, we also learned several things.”

For the benefit of the industry at large, Leah Lex summarizes the company’s key takeaways: 

Sustainability is good business – and good business is sustainable

Everyone who plays a role in the fresh produce industry has a responsibility to create and execute an ambitious sustainability strategy. To be successful, approaches should include dedicated staff as well as tangible goals that are routinely measured. 

Leah Lex, Sustainability Manager
at Volm Companies

“At Volm, we continue to ensure that sustainability is a part of our core business strategy,” says Leah Lex. We truly believe that sustainability must be embraced by – and embedded into – all areas of a business and not treated as a separate task.

“So far, we’ve hired dedicated personnel that focus exclusively on sustainability, developed a comprehensive Supplier Code of Conduct, published our first Corporate Social Responsibility document, created a robust supplier qualification process to ensure transparency within the supply chain, and more.

“Going forward, we are committed to making more progress in establishing baseline environmental social governance metrics. Doing so will help us set additional goals, evaluate our plan, and pivot where necessary.”

Collaboration must trump competition – no exceptions

Making progress on sustainability is not a solo mission, but a collaborative effort where everyone in the industry must work together. Through active collaboration with suppliers, customers, retailers, and regulatory bodies, we can help one another to meet goals, create better business practices, and ensure that our packaging meets the needs of the produce industry, according to Leah Lex.

“At Volm, we are at the table willing to work – and we believe in being a strong partner. We are proud to have 25 industry affiliations, including the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, Canadian Produce Marketing Association, Western Growers Association, International Fresh Produce Association and Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council, to name a few.

“These are important industry relationships that help us stay connected, share our learnings and foster development. Recently, Volm created a Community Involvement page to showcase how we give back to the community and to encourage our customers and suppliers to do the same.

“Going forward, we look forward to growing all of our relationships so that we can have an even stronger and more collaborative network in the years ahead.” 

Sustainability is not a sprint, but a journey

Change is never easy, but it needs to happen in a meaningful way. For that to occur, it can’t be as quick and easy as a light switch being flicked. Instead, it needs to happen strategically, collaboratively and continuously.  Continuous is a key word because sustainability is not a goal that you reach, complete and forget about. It’s something that needs to be consistently prioritized, according to Leah Lex.

“At Volm, our sustainability journey has no endpoint but is a continuous evolution. We are always striving to do better, recognizing that being transparent is key and knowing when we need to pivot. Throughout this journey, we’ve verified that Volm products are all PFAs compliant so that customers can have confidence in knowing that our packaging meets all regulatory requirements.

“We’ve conducted energy audits of several of our buildings. We’ve begun to track emissions in scope 1 and 2. To ensure all new products are designed with circularity in mind, we’ve created the Volm Innovation Center to expand our sustainable product line. We’ve also implemented a Lean training program to help reduce tangible and intangible waste. These are just a few of the efforts we’ve taken. They, and others, will not only continue but will be built upon in the months and years ahead.” 

The industry deserves a set of universal standards

A complex maze of conflicting rules and regulations will not be of service to anyone. Packaging standards need to apply to everyone and they need to be applicable everywhere. To avoid confusion and make progress, governments and industry must also use the same terminology. The EU market is learning this the hard way as they deal with a complicated set of certifications that are not standardized, Leah Lex points out.

“In the U.S., extended producer responsibility, or EPR, will be a key piece to achieving circularity within the packaging industry. EPR is a waste and pollution management concept in which a producer’s responsibility extends to the post-consumer stage of a product’s life cycle. Overall, this policy approach encourages companies to design more sustainable and recyclable products and manufacturing processes.

“Currently, this approach is piecemealed together state-by-state. Jurisdictions that have passed EPR bills are California, Oregon, Maine, and Colorado. We are keeping our finger on the pulse to ensure we can help our customers meet the EPR requirements in these areas. In the meantime, we need to advocate for universal standards and ensure the industry is set up for success.”

Innovation doesn’t always mean reinventing the wheel

That’s because the industry has already learned many valuable lessons thanks, in part, to jurisdictions that have paved the way. New Zealand, for example, has been a pioneer. The industry there has had success aligning produce supply chain practices with UN sustainability development goals.

“Of the many lessons learned, New Zealand has shown us the value in having a solid structure to guide progress,” says Leah Lex.

“Another reality that continues to be reinforced through learned experience is that packaging performs a critical function. As the industry continues to innovate, we need to be mindful that food waste is an ongoing concern. All decision makers must keep this factor in mind as we plot our path forward.”

All of these are helpful takeaways, but how does any of this translate into action? A summit report and Fresh Produce Sustainability Charter will be created to promote the importance of sustainability, advocate for support, accelerate the adoption of actions and achieve meaningful change. As a result, the industry will be better positioned to move forward in a more cohesive manner.

“In the meantime, critical change is continuing to happen at the individual business level,” according to Leah Lex.

“At Volm, we take tremendous pride in doing our part. In fact, we continue to accelerate progress toward our goals so that we continue to be an industry leader. All of this is important work, but it’s also only the beginning. As we continue to make more and more progress, it’s critical that we keep our learnings in mind so that we stay on track. After all, making change is not only about working hard – but also working together.”

Source: Volm Companies
Leah Lex, Sustainability Manager at Volm Companies

Editor & Publisher: Lukie Pieterse

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