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Saturday, May 19, 2012

Consumer Demand: A Powerful Voice to Affect Change

In the zero waste world the focus is primarily on a product's end-of-life without a strong emphasis on the manufacturing process, the "beginning of life."  With product stewardship an emerging focus, Elemental Impact embraces an integrated approach to sustainability where products and practices are explored from a holographic viewpoint; the product's origins are as important as it's destination.

Facts at the foundation of Ei's product stewardship focus:

FACT: Manufacturing companies are in the business of making products that consumers, whether corporate or personal, will purchase at a fair market value.

FACT: Manufacturers must make a reasonable profit and adapt to shifts in consumer demand to remain a viable business.  

FACT: The consumer, whether personal or corporate, may use the power of demand and spending dollars to influence items manufactured along with the related packaging and production practices.

waxed cardboard boxes are
landfill destined
With Ei's zero waste expertise, transport packaging is a strong first step in the Product Stewardship journey.  Many companies do not realize packaging choices influence their customer's ability to achieve zero waste goals. Educating the complete supply | value chain (includes the end-user)  on sustainable packaging is imperative to shifts from landfill-destined boxes, or other containers, to recyclable | compostable options.

For a packaging metamorphosis, the entire supply | value chain must work together on understanding the current scenario, defining sustainability goals and discovering solutions that make solid business sense for the entire chain.  Cross industry sector collaboration is key to an overhaul of packaging standards.

Ei Ptr Chris Bradlee (BASF) &
Will Harris 
To begin the journey a group of Ei Partners and friends traveled to South Georgia for farm tours. Learning the farm's practices and assessing the current scenario for protein transport packaging were the catalyst for the trip.  Ei chose family-run farms committed to sustainability and animal welfare at the core of their ethics and operations.

The farms, White Oak Pastures and Thompson Farms Smokehouse, are Whole Foods suppliers and meet the stringent Whole Foods 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating Standards with a 5+ designation.  Earning the 5+ designation requires animals must live outdoors with freedom to roam, graze and | or wallow and all body parts must remain intact - no castration of young males is permitted.  On-farm abattoirs are required so the livestock never experience the stress of leaving the farm.

A happy WOP chicken
strutting in the grass
Will Harris, WOP Patriarch, welcomed the group to his farm in the mid afternoon and spent the remainder of the day and into the evening educating the inquisitive guests. A detailed tour of the farming and slaughter practices was first on the agenda.   WOP raises grassfed cattle, lambs, turkeys and chickens for commercial sale.  

It was amazing to witness the dignity and respect for the animals inherent within WOP farming practices.  Result:  healthy, happy livestock that produces great tasting, nutritious meat devoid of steroids, hormones and antibiotics. The entire chain from the soil to the livestock to the farmers to the consumer benefit.

Solar panels provide 40%
of the WOP abattoir power
In the United States WOP is the only farm with on-farm permitted beef and poultry abattoirs and one of only two farms with an on-farm beef abattoir.  Approximately 40% of the abattoir's power is generated by solar panels.  

Zero Waste Zones - National Zone Participant, WOP abattoirs are zero waste. For an overview of WOP's transformation from a conventional cattle ranch to one of the most sustainable farms in the nation, see the IMPACT Blog post, White Oak Pastures - Dignity & Respect @ Its Core.

The following day the group traveled to Thompson Farms Smokehouse for an amazing tour of their hog farm in Dixie, GA.  As with WOP, the common theme was dignity and respect for the hogs including a healthy quality of life.

Thompson Farms Abattoir
Due to time constraints most of the tour focused on the slaughter practices in the on-farm abattoir permitted in September, 2011.  In addition to eliminating the stress of transport to an off-site slaughterhouse, the on-site operations give Thompson Farms a strong payback especially considering the time spent on past slaughter transport.

Andrew Thompson
sharing his wisdom
Andrew Thompson gave the group a thorough education of the slaughter process along with many interesting hog facts.  A hog's gestation period is 3 months, 3 weeks, 3 days. The biggest predator for new born piglets are buzzards, erroneously known for eating only carcasses of the deceased.  Once a boar's sexual hormones activate the meat becomes tainted with a distinctive taste.  Young boars are generally harvested at a weight significantly less than their female counterparts to avoid the meat tainting, an added cost of not castrating young boars.

THANK YOU to Will Harris of White Oak Pastures and Andrew Thompson of Thompson Farms Smokehouse for your time and true Southern hospitality.  It was an immense honor to first-hand witness sustainable agriculture in action.

For a pictorial recap of the farm tours, see the Ei FB albums, 05-14-12 White Oak Pastures Tour, and 05-15-12 Thompson Farms Tour.  WARNING: Some Thompson Farms photos are graphic yet honor the process and the livestock who gave their lives to fulfill consumer demand for animal protein.  Future blog posts will delve into the farming practices - how fun!

A farewell group shot  with
the Thompson Farm folks
For farms like WOP and Thompson Farms to thrive it is important for the consumer to show support with their spending dollars.  A common challenge among sustainable farmers, who incur higher production costs, is the consumer is enthusiastic with their voice yet not with their dollars.  A healthy solution for the budget-minded consumer, including chefs, is to replace quantity with quality when making animal protein purchasing decisions.

With the established  ZWZ Participants network, mainly foodservice operators, Ei is positioned to educate foodservice operators of the implications transport packaging has on their zero waste goal achievement.  Once engaged foodservice operators may use their powerful spending dollars to influence their suppliers' packaging choices.  Sustainable animal protein (and other) transport packaging options are available in the market place

It is important to remember the producers and manufacturers must make a reasonable profit to sustain their businesses.  Working together in collaborative effort, solutions will emerge where all benefit within a solid business model.  Let's find the collective consumer demand voice and effect change in outdated packaging and other operating practices.

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