Thursday, September 1, 2011

Agricultural “Sustainability”: Buzzword or Metric for Investment?

AG Chat Interview Cleaves Fact From Fad in Sustainable Ag

By Marc Dresner

Question: Which one of these things is not like the other ones?

A. This summer, PepsiCo published its first sustainable agriculture brochure and subsequently announced plans for an initiative along similar lines.

BUT PepsiCo Director of Sustainable Development Dan Bena was quoted thus: “Comparatively, the environmental part is going to be easy to solve because there the technology exists to improve farming practices… The economic aspect will also be relatively easy because we already have examples of improvements we’ve made there. But the most difficult part will be tackling the social element, because there we will probably have to supersede what’s technically available locally.” (Source: eMoney Daily)

B. The USDA recently announced that in 2012 it will award grants to “farmers and ranchers with innovative ideas for improving operations through sustainable agriculture practices.” (Source: Drovers CattleNetwork)

C. Last week, former McDonald’s subsidiary Chipotle Mexican Grill in partnership with country music legend Willie Nelson released an animated short in support of sustainable agriculture suggestively titled “Back to the Start”—with Nelson covering Coldplay’s “The Scientist”—promoting free-range, “natural and organic” products. (33,000-plus views as of this post.)

Answer: D. All of the above...and....none of the above?

How is it possible that a trend the likes of sustainability, which has preoccupied climatologists, ecologists, biologists and evironmentalists, captured corporate imagination and venture capital attention, corralled the interests of regulators and politicians, alike, and attained international popular support in the hearts and even the wallets of average people, could still be subject to such a wide range of interpretation?

Clearly the concept of sustainability, while highly fashionable, isn’t as simple as it seems; it’s rife with misunderstanding and vulnerable to the whims of misguided good intention and ignorance as much as it is to profiteers and environmental poachers. (In cases, they are one and the same.)

In this edition of AG Chat, independent consultant, scientist and agribusiness expert Steve Savage dispels some common misconceptions with regard to sustainability and discusses the importance of removing uncertainty from the equation by quantifying sustainability. Getting the metrics right will be key!

Listen to this episode of Ag Chat here.

Download a transcript of our interview here.

Editor’s note: Steve Savage will be speaking on The Surprising Barriers to Agricultural Sustainability at the 2.0 Global Investments Conference taking place in Toronto, Canada, November 7-8, 2011.

For more information or to register, please visit

Ag Chat is an executive interview series featuring the business experts, investors and entrepreneurs at the forefront of sustainable agriculture. Each episode explores the trends, technologies and drivers shaping the world of sustainable agriculture today.

Marc Dresner works closely with IBC Life Sciences as a communication lead with a background in trade journalism and marketing. He is the former executive editor of Research Business Report, a confidential newsletter for the marketing research industry. He may be reached at Follow him @mdrezz.


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