Passenger sticking head out window of long train going around a curve

There is no question; we are living in a time of rapid and bewildering change.

Our populations are booming, resources are dwindling, and the planet is warming. Technology is charging ahead enhancing our connectivity with each other and the environment. We are just beginning to understand the impact that years of industrial revolutionary wars have had on the environment and our humanity. In place of government, it is business that must take the lead in re-imagining the way we utilize our natural resources and the way we treat and our workers and our communities. A robust Corporate Social Responsibility program can be the train that brings us to a new station.

When I think of the invention of the steam train, I realize it’s a symbol for the driving squelching progress that has brought us to this place. Trains helped us move and conquer the wide-open spaces. It was the locomotive that brought wood, copper, coal, and a variety of food across the prairies. It even brought us our modern time zones. The steam engine that was the twentieth century transported us through the largest increase in economic growth ever witnessed in mankind’s history. This notion of ever-expansion was based on stripping the minerals, forests, fossils, and soil at an unsustainable rate while exploiting many people along the way.

Now there is a new train to ride, and it’s called Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Adopting a path to CSR means a company commits to more than just profit and embraces a “Triple Bottom Line,” a commitment to economic growth coupled with an equal commitment to the environment and society. I am grateful I work for a company who is making the grade in this Corporate Socially Responsible way of doing business.

CSR at UNFI is pretty much baked into the DNA of the organization. We build LEED® certified facilities, install solar panels for electricity, and maintain a long history of philanthropic giving and service in our community. Formalizing our commitment in several keys areas assures that we don’t get sidetracked or derailed on our journey. Those three tracks are Philanthropy, Sustainability, and Industry.

Be sure that the companies you work for and the companies you support are making this commitment.

Our Philanthropic track allows us to participate and be good neighbors and partners in the communities where we work. In 2015, our associates volunteered 13,600 hours and donated $294,618 to non-profit organizations. We donated 12,305,200 pounds of food for the hungry. UNFI associates personally gave $97,478 by signing up for payroll deductions. Our philanthropic focus is on the environment, hunger relief, nutrition, and agriculture, areas close to the heart of our business.

The UNFI Foundation was created in 2011 to formalize the way we give back to the Industry that supports us. Our priority areas drive straight to the heart of our business, supporting organic agriculture. We fund innovative organizations that work to increase organic agriculture, through science and research, teaching organic farming practices, fostering the next generation of organic farmers, and protecting the biodiversity of our seeds. I am stoked to say that the UNFI Foundation has granted over $1.4 million since its inception.

We’re certainly not blowing smoke in our Sustainability work. In 2015, we added two new buildings designed for LEED® Gold to the seven already certified. Our logistics department remains committed to reducing our impact on the planet and achieved a 2.1% year over year (YOY) improvement in fleet fuel efficiency last year. Our facilities consciously recycled waste and achieved a 25% YOY improvement in waste diversion from landfills; we recycled 17,390 tons of cardboard, shrink-wrap, metal, glass, wood, and food waste: all that would have otherwise been sent to languish in the dump. And of course, we utilized good old fashioned trains to offset 30,608 metric tons of CO2e!

We’re on the right track by being committed to our Industry and staying involved. Our leadership can be found on Capitol Hill advocating for transparent labeling of food, and for more government investment in organic agriculture. We’re active sponsors of organic farming conferences across the heartland. We engage in and help shape the dialogue with key industry partners such as the Organic Trade Association, the Non-GMO Project, and Just Label It in order to create a more just and transparent food system.

I believe that as more companies commit to a formal CSR program, we will begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Climate change and social inequality are becoming too large to ignore, and the business community can bring the change that this world needs. Be sure that the companies you work for and the companies you support are making this commitment. Let’s avoid an environmental and social train wreck through better business.

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About The Author

Melody Meyer's picture

Melody is the Vice President of Policy and Industry Relations for United Natural Foods (UNFI). In this role she is responsible for communicating and educating all stakeholders on critical organic issues. Her Blog www.organicmattersblog.com covers a range of organic and sustainable food issues.

She is the executive director of the UNFI Foundation which is dedicated to funding non-profit organizations that promote organic agriculture  www.unfifoundation.org. Melody serves as Secretary of the Board of Directors for the Organic Trade Association www.ota.com.

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