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Although sustainability practices have been available and refined over the last 20 years, many C Suite executives still question whether sustainability really improves bottom line performance. Management viewpoints and feedback can range from the costs outweigh the benefits, “one off” programs, lack of integration into business or strategic plans, doesn’t meet management expectations, appears too “risky,” timing is not right, lack of sustainability budget or resources, and the list goes on! These perceptions may seem difficult to overcome, but it does not mean that sustainability programs and initiatives should not be pursued. So what has to change? One of the most important strategies lies in reframing the sustainability opportunity in a different light and demonstrating that sustainability is “good for the bottom line, as well as being good for the planet.” What lens should we use?

First is to fully understand company value. One way is to envision the company as a floating iceberg and use this as the compass. What you can see is the “book value” of the company including tangible assets and business financials that represents maybe ~20-30% of overall company value.

However, what you cannot see may equate to ~70-80% of company value including company risks and liabilities such as intangibles and non-financials, reputation and brand image, goodwill, and stakeholder relationships made up of shareholders, investors, employees, and the community. (1) What this lens enables you to do is to address true and hidden costs and quantify the total risks and liabilities associated with your business and sustainability project. Many times sustainability projects can reduce total costs and lessen risks and liabilities, and therein lies the business opportunity.

Next, identify total costs and address the risks and liabilities. Many times, for example, sustainability projects can resolve “hidden” costs that remain unidentified including regulatory, upfront, back-end, voluntary, contingency, brand image, relationship, and supply chain costs. (2) These aggregate costs help define total costs associated with the sustainability project. Once total costs have been identified, one can quantify and qualify company risks and liabilities across environmental, supply chain, product and technology, litigation, reputational, physical, financial, operational, and strategic areas of focus (3). If properly qualified and quantified, these cost savings can be expressed as economic impact and shown to reduce company risks and liabilities and the total cost of ownership for products and services, while improving overall business performance.

What is available in the toolbox to achieve overall improved sustainability performance? Today, there are a number of sustainability best practices that have been implemented, as well as new sustainability tools that have been developed in recent years, which are available for use in the food industry:

  • Sustainability standards and certifications such as ISO 9000 and ISO 14001 standards that support manufacturing and environmental management practices and ISO 22000 for food safety management

  • Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) of food production, manufacturing, and systems that enable “cradle to cradle” analysis of products and technologies

  • Creative and innovative Circular Economy initiatives, such as with regenerative food production

  • True cost of accounting practices such as with the Sustainable Food Trust in areas such as environmental pollution, biodiversity, healthcare, farm support payments etc.

  • Sustainable Accounting Standard Board (SASB) sustainability adjusted reporting guidelines for Agricultural Products in categories such as GHG emissions, energy, water, safety, social impact etc.

  • Updated sustainability assessments such with the Sustainability Assessment of Food and Agriculture system (SAFA) guidelines and the Institute of Food Science and Technology (IFST) Food System Sustainability Framework

  • Improved sustainability metrics including carbon, water, energy, and product environmental foot printing tools

  • New sustainability reporting formats such as with the sustainability balanced scorecard and with Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) guidelines.

So what then is the sales pitch for “show me the money” when it comes to improved bottom line sustainability performance? Improved bottom line sustainability performance can be achieved in the short term, as well as longer term timeframes.

  • Quantified and qualified cost savings can improve margins and reduce budgets across areas such as recruiting, attrition, insurance, borrowing, operational, supply chain and other cost centers

  • Productivity gains can be captured through automation and capital improvement projects

  • Eco and resource efficiencies can be determined across the use of energy, water, materials, as well as waste generation areas. Additional tools are now available to calculate environmental ROIs.

  • Socio efficiencies can also be created around health, working conditions, and wellness. Additional tools can also determine social ROIs as well.

  • Reduced risks and liabilities can be accomplished by addressing total cost of ownership

  • Increased sales and market share growth can be achieved through sustainability products and services in growth categories associated with Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability (LOHAS) and consumer buying behavior and loyalty

  • Better competitive sustainability positioning can be attained through “Thinking Global, Acting Local, and Building Regional” by raising the bar on your own and not waiting for compliance and regulations to take place.

  • Sustainability value creation can be generated over time through a variety of metrics and performance measurements. These areas of performance can also include security, talent attraction, brand image and reputation, access to capital, and other conventional operational areas. One emerging area is that of shared value that is collected across all stakeholder groups including suppliers, customers, employees, and other community partners. One interesting metric that many companies are using to express long term sustainability value creation is that of economic impact across the triple bottom line.

Sustainability best practices are now being implemented and integrated in the food and agriculture industry, as it is becoming the DNA in a growing number of companies. The sustainability journey continues on with these practices being embraced as a requisite, not an option, in improving business performance. What is happening is a business reset in the marketplace and a mindset change of C Suite management. Companies are first challenged by risk mitigation or being less harmful. Next comes the test of doing no harm or zero harm. Further challenges are on the horizon with doing good through repair, reuse, replenishment etc. What is arriving now for many companies at the forefront of sustainability is being just and regenerative through building capacity across all stakeholders and applying circular economy guiding principles. (4) Companies alike can demonstrate doing good for the bottom line, as well as doing good for the planet and society. What lies ahead are challenges and opportunities to further progress sustainability through purpose and company values!

I wish you the best on your sustainability journey,

Norman Christopher

Sustainable Business Practices LLC



  • The Future of Corporate Accounting. SAP Blogs. 2014

  • Christopher, N., Sustainability Demystified!- A Practical Guide for Business Leaders and Managers. Principia Media. 2012

  • Green Business Strategy: Ideas with Impact. Harvard Business Review. 2015

  • Payne, J. How to transform for a thriving future: A Compass for Just and Regenerative Business. November 2021

As a sustainability advisor to the West Michigan Food Processing Association (WMFPA), I recently had the opportunity to facilitate a WMFPA industry discussion with different levels of food manufacturing management regarding sustainability best practices. The session provided great insight about the significant difficulties companies are having addressing current supply chain issues and risks. The need for implementation of sustainability best practices to help improve decision making and create positive sustainability impact was prominent in the discussion. There were , however, several lingering issues that many of the companies were facing. Sustainability was mentioned as one of many initiatives that companies were currently undertaking. However, some programs appeared to be of more importance than others as some sustainability directives seemed to have lost their influence. So the question was raised about how to gain favor and support for sustainability programs with C Suite management?

First, who is C Suite management? Depending on the size of the company, these executive leaders can be CEOs, Presidents, COOs, CFOs, divisional leaders, and other key management decision makers. Each level of executive management may have its own lens when looking at sustainability projects and programs and these parameters must be taken into account. The good news is that stakeholders, investors, shareholders, and employees today have all become increasingly more aware of environmental and social sustainability issues and opportunities. The breadth of these perspectives can all be communicated with management on a regular basis to stay informed. The concerns about greenwashing have also diminished, as companies are now able to pursue sustainability certifications, guidelines, standards for their products and processes in their manufacturing and operations.

So then, what does the C suite management sales pitch on sustainability look like? What should the message be?

  • First, sustainability must show positive economic performance. There are a number of ways that sustainability programs and projects can demonstrate this performance. Short term, sustainability progress can be achieved through cost avoidance in comparison to current company bottom line results. These cost savings can be translated into improved gross margins and overall cost budgeting. One area that can provide great insight is the use of total cost accounting that embraces all externalities including direct and indirect cost burdens. Today, there are also several “ROI” proformas that can also be developed, such as environmental ROIs and social ROIs that use total cost accounting techniques and can determine specific environmental or social sustainability performance. Sustainability programs and projects must also be able to create longer term value through positive sustained economic, environmental, and social impact. One significant helpful metric to use for these cases is the determination of economic impact dollars that the sustainability program or project generates over time. Additionally, many companies are now embracing the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) sustainability adjusted reporting guidelines for specific projects such as the Carbon Disclosure Project.

  • Second, the marketplace cares about sustainability. Consumers, regulators, employees, and stakeholders alike all care about sustainability because it affects each of our individual lives. There is a great conscious awareness of sustainability issues across the world today, whether it be scarce resources such as water, climate change, deforestation, waste pollution such as with plastics, social justice, food access etc. Patagonia has recognized that everything they make has an impact on the planet and set short and long term goals to reduce and even establish zero environmental impact goals for their company. New markets also care about sustainability. One new growing market is known as the LOHAS market or Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability. This retail market is estimated at $300B+ today with about 30% of consumers willing to purchase LOHAS products at higher prices because of the sustainability labels, certifications, and standards that the products meet.

  • Third, investors and customers care about sustainability. Today, there has been a deepening cry for more transparency from companies about their operations and reporting sustainability results especially around environmental impact, human rights, and social justice issues. Complex sustainability issues are evidenced on a worldwide scale and now interwoven into global commerce. One reporting framework that many global companies are adhering to today is environmental. social, and governance (ESG) reporting. The ISSB is becoming the benchmark standard for ESG disclosures that are integrated into financial reporting, as well as for strategic capital investments. In 2021 $1.5T in debt was issued for ESG projects globally and that number should almost double to $2.5T in 2022. Over 450 companies within the Glasgow Financial Alliance have pledged $130T towards net zero goals and programs. However, it is best to think about ESG as a lens or mindset of doing business, which can be transformed across the supply chain, and not just as a reporting standard. Long term net zero goals are fine to start, but there must be accountability and results demonstrated in the short term to make realistic progress towards net zero goals. There is more ESG compliance and additional regulations forthcoming in the near future, so it is prudent for management to get ahead of the curve now with these new ESG standards and protocols being implemented in the marketplace. And the ESG framework may well ensure the sustainability of your business model by also addressing both tangible and intangible business risks. Smaller to medium size companies (SMEs) can also develop balanced sustainability reporting and scorecards to ensure overall progress for their stakeholders as well.

For food companies, having an unblemished brand image is tantamount to success. Implementing sustainability best practices can help achieve that success and preserve brand image across company operations, while contributing to the bottom line. Customers, employees, stakeholders, and investors all really care about sustainability, and so should business leaders and management at all levels.

Norman Christopher

Sustainable Business Practices LLC


For more information about the West Michigan Food Processing Association, please contact:

Marty Gerencer

Executive Director

West Michigan Food Processing Association

(231) 638-2981


Updated: Apr 23, 2022

The partnership aims to connect the resources of Michigan State University with west Michigan entrepreneurs and food companies.

MUSKEGON, Mich. — The Michigan State University (MSU) Product Center and the West Michigan Food Processing Association announced a partnership on Monday, August 2 that brings the university’s resources to the doorstep of west Michigan food companies and innovative entrepreneurs.

“Our mission is to help entrepreneurs in the food, agriculture and natural resource space add value to their products and to assist in the development of new and innovative products,” said Mollie Woods, director of the MSU Product Center. “We are excited to strengthen our presence in west Michigan and to share our expertise in food processing innovation.”

The MSU Product Center will expand outreach efforts by managing the Food, Agriculture, Research and Manufacturing (FARM) food processing accelerator developed by the West Michigan Food Processing Association. The facility will provide space and technical assistance to entrepreneurs and businesses to scale up new product and service ideas into the food, agriculture and bioenergy markets.

“It is very exciting for the MSU Product Center to be able to add FARM operations to our already successful model at the Food Processing and Innovation Center,” said Tina Conklin, director of the MSU Product Center’s Food Processing and Innovation Center. “This opportunity allows us to continue assisting food and agriculture business and entrepreneurs as they successfully launch products and gain market share.”

Clarence Rudat, former program coordinator for the Institute of Agricultural Technology (IAT) in Muskegon, was recently hired as the MSU FARM Manager and will oversee the FARM accelerator effective August 2, 2021. He will also serve as a direct resource for food companies throughout the region, bringing 33 years of experience in career and technical education about food, agriculture and natural resources to the table.

“We could not have accomplished this much progress with FARM without the ongoing support of our community partners, including Community Foundation for Muskegon County, Greater Muskegon Economic Development, Muskegon Community College, as well as several other regional and state partners,” said Marty Gerencer, executive director of the West Michigan Food Processing Association. “We are so pleased to welcome Clarence into this role and to have MSU’s support to continue the launch of this facility.”

The FARM accelerator will help startup food processing and agricultural-based businesses cultivate talent, create jobs, put down roots and grow in the west Michigan region. By now adding the Muskegon region to the MSU Product Center’s service area, budding entrepreneurs as well as seasoned food manufacturers can tap into the 160-plus years of research and innovation.

“With over $22.3 billion invested in food and agriculture start-ups in 2020, the synergy this partnership brings to the region couldn’t be more timely,” said Rudat. “With Michigan being the second most agriculturally diverse state in the nation, farmers are looking to add value to their products, and creative food entrepreneurs are looking to test and scale up innovative ideas. I can’t think of a better location to leverage the resources of MSU, MCC and the infrastructure of west Michigan.”

The FARM accelerator, located adjacent to Muskegon Community College, has manufacturing and training spaces including a docking station for the MSU Mobile Food Processing Lab, cold storage, logistic areas, office space and parking.

“This is a great addition to the training programs we already offer around manufacturing including our one-year food science certificate and the two-year associate degree in food processing, technology and safety that is delivered here in partnership with MSU IAT,” said Dr. Dale Nesbary, president of Muskegon Community College. For more information on these offerings:

MSU Product Center

Contact: Mollie Woods, Director


Mobile: (517) 281-3100

MSU Product Center Manufacturing Operations, FPIC, FARM, DFP

Contact: Tina Conklin, Director


Mobile: (616) 443-1957

Food, Agriculture, Research and Manufacturing (FARM) Accelerator

Contact: Clarence Rudat, MSU FARM Manager


Mobile: (231) 740-5615

West Michigan Food Processing Association

Contact: Marty Gerencer, Executive Director


Mobile: (231) 638-2981

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