The Buzz on Sustainability

Anyone who has ever worked in an office is surely familiar with the catch phrases, clichés and buzzwords that litter nearly every meeting - even the water-cooler kind. A few of my favorites include: "undergo network optimization," "formulate an action plan," and "develop core competencies." All of these terms sound powerful when they are spoken, but upon returning to the comfort of your cubicle, you usually realize you have no idea what these words actually mean, at least in the context they were spoken.

Anyone who has ever worked in an office is surely familiar with the catch phrases, clichés and buzzwords that litter nearly every meeting - even the water-cooler kind. A few of my favorites include: "undergo network optimization," "formulate an action plan," and "develop core competencies." All of these terms sound powerful when they are spoken, but upon returning to the comfort of your cubicle, you usually realize you have no idea what these words actually mean, at least in the context they were spoken.
     "Sustainability" is the hot buzzword in the food industry. While most people in the industry can intelligently define sustainability, confusion arises from the plethora of different interpretations that surround these definitions.
     A general, agreed-upon definition seems to be the industry's ability to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Some discussions go on to explain it further as "indefinite productivity" - that is, productivity that does not cause irreversible harm that would bring about its own demise. Sustainability is typically emphasized as a three-pronged initiative, requiring companies to be economically, socially and environmentally responsible. Herein lies much of the ambiguity, because each company will address these responsibilities differently.
     Companies' varied efforts in the name of sustainability involve increasing energy efficiency, reducing waste, using water more efficiently, decreasing air pollution and emissions, switching to environmentally-friendly packaging and optimizing distribution practices, to name a few.
     The sustainability discussion reminds me somewhat of the ever popular term "new age," as it was used in the eighties. I'm pretty sure at some point in time everyone was into something new age, despite the fact that few people were completely sure what it meant. Did they reach some new level of spirituality during yoga class, or did they simply listen to Flock of Seagulls in excess and use too much mousse in their hair? Regardless, it sounded cool to be new age.
     So at least we can all agree that sustainability is cool. After all, the nature of the word itself does make it difficult to oppose. Who would support non-sustainability in the food industry? Sign me up for something that can't endure. Sounds promising.
     Joking aside, sustainability is a check in the positive category. While different companies might be working towards different sustainability goals, all these goals are united by the desire to protect our resources and the preserve the future of the food industry for generations to come. The concept is smart, green and forward-thinking. Some might even call it…new-aged.

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