Interview: Jorge Humberto Siller Cepeda
What is understood by sustainability?
Sustainability is a widely used concept, sometimes incorrectly. Sustainability refers to the characteristics of sustainable development, which is understood as the ability to maintain the current activity without compromising the resources of the next generations in the future. But sustainability not only focuses on the environmental values, as sustainable development seeks balance between the three pillars: Social, Economy and the Environment.
Sustainable models are focused on achieving an equitable relationship between society and economy, a viable path between the economy and the environment, and a sustained coherence between society and the environment. The environmental portion assumes that nature and the environment are not an endless source of resources, so its protection and rational use becomes necessary. On the other hand, the social portion promotes social development, seeking cohesiveness between communities and cultures to reach satisfying levels in life quality, health and education. Finally, we find the economic portion, which promotes an economic growth that generates equitable wealth for everyone, with no damages for the environment.
The concern of society for sustainability is increasing. An increasing number of people are taking sustainable criteria into account in their daily basis, and they convey these criteria, and believe these are necessary to preserve our planet. This new awareness generates relationships between people with similar characteristics, and it does not go unnoticed by companies, as many of these have realized the benefits that more social and sustainable values can have for their reputation.
How many ways of working for sustainability are there in the business world these days?
There are a variety of ways to work towards sustainability in the business world, with various degrees of commitment to sustainability in the market, and how this can have an impact on companies, these are: Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), Social Companies and Sustainable Companies.
All strategies, actions or philosophy statements based on any of these branches of sustainability could state that sustainable values are being applied. However, it is incorrect to say that those companies that carry out some social or environmental action are sustainable. As we have already seen, sustainability has 3 fundamental pillars, so if these are only applied to one or two of them, these should only be considered as Corporate Social Responsibility actions.
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategies are those plans or actions that companies design as an attempt to return everything companies acquire from the medium surrounding them, or the inconveniences they may cause to it. In this manner, many companies perform these actions only to improve their corporate image; they do not have a model, strategy or practical plans to implement their sustainable development, and therefore, they do not comply with achieving the balance between the 3 pillars.
Another very different case is social companies. These organizations do not have the obtention of maximum benefit as a fundamental priority; instead they work to improve a specific aspect of society through an entrepreneurial figure. This way, these are companies created for and to generate a benefit to society.
Finally, we find the most transversal concept related to business sustainability. These are the companies considered as sustainable, which work with the characteristic values of sustainable development in all areas of their organization; from the product they provide to the way it is sold or how the generated wastes are disposed. These companies usually have a very strong responsibility, with a corporate identity or philosophy based on the proper environmental management, resource efficiency, recycling and a great concern for all the stakeholders within the organization. All this, with the purpose of developing the business activities and obtaining profits, without causing any harm to the planet, or to the environment where their activities are developed.
In recent times, this last model is the one that builds powerful brands the user identifies himself / herself with, and it is now a triggering factor when making a purchase decision for many people. This is essential because it not only affects the image to people, but also the results and sales of a particular organization.
Why has sustainability become so important in all industries these days?
Industrial development has had a great impact both in the environment and in the social structure. Most executives recognize that natural resources are threatened, so stability and prosperity of their companies is directly related to paying attention to the challenges in all three pillars. They also consider that their operations and purchase decisions of their consumers are being influenced by their environmental and social reputation.
The alignment of the pandemic for COVID-19, the increase of awareness for race, diversity and inclusion in our communities, and the devastation originated by extreme weather and climate change, have set the grounds for sustainability to become a Number 1 priority of the business community.
Furthermore, in a world of extreme uncertainty, people are looking for clarity and transparency: Clarity to make business and investment decisions; clarity to drive their organizations forward with confidence, and transparency to inform and give certainty to stakeholders, who are more demanding every day.
All these factors are the new reality to create a sustainable future in companies, and it is coming up as a very significant subject in businesses, and as a potential strategic opportunity, which needs to be evaluated against other business decisions.
The key challenge for most companies is how to develop business strategies and practical implementation plans to develop their economic, environmental and social performance.
As 2021 began, the commitment for the new American administration of putting the climate policy on top of the list of their domestic and foreign agendas, aims at reinforcing and accelerating this trend, with very diverse implications for all industries.
Why is sustainability important for the farming sector?
The current growth track of farming production is unsustainable, due to its negative impacts on natural resources and the environment. The global challenges we are facing are the increasing scarcity and quick deterioration of natural resources, while the demand for food is rapidly increasing.
Competition for natural resources will intensify more. This can be caused by urban expansion, the antagonism between the various sectors of farming, forest destruction to expand farming activities, industrial use of water, or recreational use of land, among many others. In many places, this is already resulting in the exclusion of traditional users from access to resources and markets.
Whereas farming is a significant contributor of climate change, it is also a victim of its effects. Climate change reduces the resilience of production systems and contributes to degrading natural resources. In the future, factors such as temperature increases, changes in rain patterns and extreme weather events are expected to worsen significantly, affecting farming activities in different ways.
The increasing circulation of people and merchandise, environmental changes and changes in production practices, make room for new disease threats to plants or invasive species of insects, which can affect food safety, human health, efficiency and sustainability of production systems.
It is time for regenerative farming, which describes farming practices which, among other benefits, reverse the climate change by reconstructing the organic matter from the soil and restores its biodiversity; resulting in a carbon loss reduction and improving the water cycle. The key of regenerative farming is that it does not only “harms” the land, but it improves it, by using regenerating and revitalizing technologies for the soil and the environment, such as conservation tillage, cover crops, crop rotation, composting, which help reducing soil erosion.
2020 was the hottest ever recorded year, according to NASA. We are increasingly suffering the impacts of this climate crisis, from unprecedented wildfires to catastrophic hurricanes. To avoid even worse climate impacts, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that we need to stabilize the global temperature below 2°C, which requires a reduction of CO2 emissions to zero. This means that the amount of CO2 entering the atmosphere must be equal to the amount that is removed. Achieving this balance between CO2 sources and sinks is often referred to as “net zero emissions” or “carbon neutrality”.
What progress has been made on sustainability in the farming from Sinaloa in recent years?
Sinaloa has been a prominent leader in implementing new technologies in the field and in packaging, as well as robust food safety and social responsibility programs. These actions have unquestionably contributed to sustainability of farming in Sinaloa. However, in order to be successful, the farmers from Sinaloa must embrace sustainability as a model that addresses global challenges such as climate change, wastes and pollution, biodiversity loss, human rights, inclusion, diversity and equality, among many others. These models allow defining which should be the most significant subjects to implement the changes in their operations.
Implementing these changes can only be effective when we have a clear perspective of a state in the future; an understanding of the current position, and a vision of how fast we are moving between both states. Measuring progress and tracking changes is an essential factor in the transition towards sustainability.
The importance of data and how these can help companies adopting or incorporating even more sustainable practices, are key to drive towards sustainability. As organizations begin to move forward in their efforts to move away from a linear way of doing business and implementing changes in the real world, clear and comparable metrics will be valuable in evaluating their success and planning future actions that will lead to achieve a balance between the three pillars.
How can a more sustainable and resilient farming be achieved?
In order to address the great change pace and growing uncertainty, one must conceive sustainability as a process, and not as a particular end point to be reached. The challenges for farming require key actions to guide the strategic development of new approaches and the transition towards sustainability in this sector. We need to improve efficiency in the use of resources; implementing direct actions to preserve, protect and improve natural resources; protecting and improving the rural life means and social welfare; increasing the resilience of people, communities and ecosystems, especially to climate change and market volatility; and establish good governance for sustainability, both for natural and human systems.
We need to apply our knowledge and values to work in cooperation with communities, employees and clients around us; growing with shared responsibility, aware of the challenges we are facing every day, building the abilities needed to achieve so, and continuously innovating in the organization, processes and strategies with tangible commitments.
This requires to set indicators to be accurate on where we are now, allowing us to set achievable goals and work on a daily basis to build the future we want. This, in turn, requires the development of governance, financing, technical, and political frameworks that support farming producers and managers involved in a dynamic process of innovation.
How does technology help sustainability practices in farming companies?
Sustainable farming practices must use technology, research and development to the fullest; although with much greater integration of local knowledge than these did in the past. This will demand new and sounder alliances between technical organizations and those oriented towards investment.
The basic paradigm in sustainable farming systems is that both principles and criteria are transferable, but technologies are local. This is a considerable deviation from the classic, from-the-top-down model of research and technology transfer, demanding a new role for extension agents. In sustainable farming, there are no unique solutions or magic bullets; in fact, the magic bullet approach should be consciously avoided.
The farming sector must be based on its own data for efficient planning and management, which requires proper statistics, climate information, geospatial maps, qualitative information, knowledge and the application of digital technologies. The analysis should focus on both production systems and the underlying natural and socio-economic resources.
The challenges related to biodiversity loss and utilization rates of natural resources often transcend the country borders. Governance mechanisms and international processes must support sustainable growth (and equitable distribution of profits) in all farming sectors; thus protecting natural resources and discouraging collateral damages. This requires policies and institutions which provide rewards to adopt sustainable practices, in order to impose regulations and costs for those actions which deplete or degrade natural resources, and also to facilitate access to useful knowledge and resources.
How does post-harvest technology contribute to fresh fruit and vegetable sustainability?
Post-harvest technologies substantially contribute to sustainability of fruits and vegetables, by reducing losses and waste throughout the value chain. Reducing wasted food is something everyone can do, in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in our food system.
The world is full of conversations about climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, farming sustainability, and carbon footprints. At the same time, there are concerns about long-term oil reserves. Our food system is a major user of fossil fuels and a producer of greenhouse gas emissions. Buyers are asking their food suppliers their carbon footprint, and also the information demonstrating how sustainable their farming practices are.
Post-harvest technologies can significantly contribute to reduce the carbon footprint of food systems. Cooling energy can be reduced through the use of efficient cooling operations and better management of the energy used in other processes.
Given that power, fuels, fertilizers and water are used in crop production, having high losses of food which was never consumed is a huge waste of resources, which increases largely the carbon footprint of the food industry. The industry has invested in post-harvest technology; however, there is still a large margin for considerable improvement. We must invest less energy and resources in improving post-consumption management, as well as improving our production practices.
A detailed, systematic analysis of differences in energy use and greenhouse gas emissions from farming operations is required to enable farmers, buyers and consumers to make informed decisions, and to develop complete understanding of greenhouse gas emissions on their multiple activities.
How is food safety and sustainability related to producing fresh food?
Food production is a complicated subject that affects economy, the environment and the social structure of all countries in the world. From a sustainability point of view, we may consider food safety as a key component which connects social and environmental problems, and provides a platform to make positive changes in each area.
In many ways, sustainability and food safety purposes both overlap and may complement each other. They overlap each other because they both deal with risk management, science-based approaches, compliance with minimum standards, supply chain integration, and traceability.
They complement each other because food safety is essential for the economic viability of the operation, a basic principle of sustainability. In addition, both are more effective when training, labor education and management programs are implemented.
Additionally, comprehensive programs of sustainability address the risks associated with production beyond those addressed by food safety programs. For example, the use of pesticides is not addressed under the new food safety regulations (PSR/FSMA), but it proposes potential risks to the health of farming laborers and the environment, and it may leave residues which represent a risk to consumers.
The overlapping and complementary nature of the best food safety and sustainability practices represents an opportunity for alignment, not only at a production level, but also at a marketing, buyer, consumer education and certification levels. Many of the systems used to track, promote and manage food safety risk can be refurbished and used for sustainability purposes. However, there has been a disconnection in the way we address food safety and sustainability. Specifically, these tend to be seen as totally different matters, when the important thing here is to preserve an efficient programmatic structure by merging or modifying those programs that are effective, but not efficient, or those which display duplicates with other programs, and disseminate them to all the organization personnel.
What benefits do sustainable practices bring to our environment?
The farming outlook is built through individual management decisions of millions of entrepreneurs, usually on a small scale. Sustainable land management combines technologies, policies and activities intended to integrate the socio-economic principles with environmental concerns.
In sustainable farming systems, farmers perform management interventions that lead to a sustained increase in productivity, without degrading the land resources production relies on. These systems have one or more defining elements, related to the description of the five pillars of sustainable land management in farming, in order to preserve or improve productivity; reducing the production risk level; protecting the potential of natural resources, and preventing soil and water quality degradation; being economically viable and be socially accepted.
However; the critical matter is to choose which interventions provide the best benefits in the short term, while these are still sustainable in the long term. An important additional dimension is how to design monitoring systems to track the impacts of these management interventions, and evaluate if these are either contributing or moving away from sustainability.
Technology and economy indicators of sustainable farming enhance our capacities to make informed decisions about which management interventions are the most suitable. Indicators of both physical and biological dimensions of sustainability, related to productivity improvement and protection of natural resources, complement and improve this decision-making.
The concept of sustainability has a significantly popular appeal on its own, but it is a senseless phrase, unless indicators and monitoring systems are available in order to perform a tracking of the performance of farming production systems towards this ideal. Farming systems which are capable of responding to external influences (stress, market changes, transportation policies, climate change, etc.) display the best evidence of being sustainable.
What would you recommend to farming companies in Sinaloa in order to become more involved and participate in sustainable practices?
The first and, perhaps, the greatest challenge to incorporate this new business perspective into the company culture, is understanding its meaning and the significance of acting under a vision where the three elements making up sustainability (environment, society and economy) must interact in a balanced manner, allowing the company to shape itself into the future.
Sustainability must be in the DNA of the company. Looking into the future, it should be the guiding foundation of its business model. In order to achieve this, it is necessary to integrate sustainability into the corporate culture, including the supply chain to multiply the effect of initiatives, and taking real actions consistent with its abilities.
The next step is implementing a business model that is sustainable, resilient and adjusted to climate change. They must start by defining materiality; that is, the critical subjects for stakeholders and the key subjects for the company which helps building the focus and lines of action. Then, they must identify key problems and driving forces, in order to set apart the main problems and how to prevent or control them. With this, clear and accurate strategies are developed. Subsequently, governance and personnel responsible for each phase must be established, making purposes and achievable goals clear, and describing the action plan. Lastly, progress should be monitored, reviewed, reported, and evaluated.
Truly sustainable farming will not be a typical business. It will be a type of farming that will provide environmental, economic and social opportunities for the benefit of present and future generations; by preserving and improving the quality of the resources that support farming production. It will not be the farming of today, not even of the recent past, focused on maximizing performance and economic profits, but rather one with the purpose of optimizing productivity and preserving the natural resource base.
The goal of optimization involves compensations in production systems to ensure quality maintenance of global, environmental, and life support systems. Experience tells us that these compensations will be defined and implemented voluntarily by farmers, or these will be implemented through policies and legislation. Society is starting to demand that farming becomes more than just bringing food to the table, as it is now starting to demand that it also becomes the manager of resources for future generations.
This implies that what we measure today is no longer enough on its own, to tell a company whether or not it will bear the time test. Today, a better understanding of the factors influencing operations for a better risk identification, defining better purposes, prioritizing better actions, better tracking the progress and better understanding stakeholders is necessary. This will allow making more agile and intelligent decisions, as we must keep in mind that one cannot manage what it cannot be measured.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Companies should not only be concerned about having a sustainable economic, social and environmental performance; but must also report their actions to stakeholders. This implies generating a global sustainability report. Today, the majority of companies in all lines of business have adopted the GRI methodology to generate their reports.
Evidencing the commitment and progress of society as a whole is needed. This is a transparent, public, and inclusive methodology with stakeholders. It has performance indicators in areas such as economy, the environment, human rights, labor practices and rightful law, responsibility on products, society, sourcing of materials, and animal welfare, among other subjects. It takes a trend analysis in the use of water, energy and materials, among others; in order to set up strategies, commitments and goals, and it is also auditable and can be verified by renowned third parties.
We must measure progress in Sustainability by how our products are developed and marketed; how we manage, protect and preserve water, energy, fauna, flora and soil; how we manage better energy use, how we create and use alternative green energy; and how we treat people, including employees, customers, suppliers, and all the communities where we live and operate.
How could you help the farming sector?
I am the co-founder of a specialized group defined by the passion, integrity, entrepreneurship and innovative spirit of its members. The Simplicidad y Enfoque Sostenible group (S&ES, S.A.S.) helps the sector with Projects, Studies, Services, Consultation and Advisory, and it is managed based on a sustainability strategy that takes principles and best practices under consideration for its performance. We have a very simple purpose: We want to inspire sustainable actions with a tangible and positive impact.
We are seeking to support the global food sector with simple, focused and sustainable actions that contribute in helping the current scenarios, without affecting the legacy of the future. We want to contribute to sustainable development by supporting food safety with solid, practical and simple foundations based on research, tech development and innovation. We provide balance and interaction for companies.
A balance to the inside, to identify opportunities and create a prospect portfolio that concentrates strategies, innovating with more efficient programs, and establishing actions to save water, energy and fossil fuels; while we ensure compliance with domestic and foreign laws and regulations.
Interaction to the outside, by developing and displaying focused and simple strategies that allow expanding their actions to improve the health and security of their personnel, and operations to reduce negative impacts, while we expand their relationships with communities, clients and suppliers and help achieving recognition of independent third parties and authorities.
We are interested in driving companies towards eco-efficiency that allows them to produce more with less, to define clear metrics in order to get an understanding of where they stand, allowing them to implement effective changes towards a future state, while a perspective of how fast they are moving between the place where they are now and what they want to achieve in the short, medium and long term. With an insight of the present and a comparison of where these other companies in the sector are, we can help them measure the progress to reduce their carbon, water and energy footprint; while we implement technologies to reduce their losses and achieving greater efficiency in use of their resources. We can show them that sustainability initiatives allow them to find organizational and technological innovations that can yield both revenue and profit.
If you would like to learn more details about the above, please do not hesitate to contact us at email@example.com or call 6679960552.