Should there be a LEED equivalent for food companies in the U.S.?

As I walk down the aisles of a grocery store, the labels that catch my eye are the Non-Gmo Project, the USDA organic, and the Fair Trade labels. These labels allow consumers to assume that what they are buying is good for their health, responsibly sourced, and responsibly traded. The labels operate as enabling frameworks that measure the success of a product in terms of health or trade standards, but they measure only the product, and fall short in determining the how the food company performs overall in the context of the increasing environmental and social standards of the U.S. consumer.  I think it is time to develop a standard label that takes a holistic approach to determining where food companies stand in relation to others.

The label could be based off of a rating system similar to LEED, where bronze, silver, gold, and platinum ratings differentiate the efficacy of their efforts, based on point totals. The standard should take in to account all aspects of the company’s operations. So the product is organic and responsibly sourced, but what impact do they have beyond their food product. Does the corporate office operate in a LEED certified building? Do they go beyond corporate social responsibility and make significant contributions to their communities? I love Newman’s Own products, because they taste great and they donate 100% of their after tax profits to charity; but does their manufacturing process also operate at a high standard. I assume that companies that make an effort to acquire Fair Trade, USDA Organic, and Non-Gmo labels, also make efforts to maintain high environmental and ethical standards within their operations and management, but I only speculate. Food companies should have the right to apply for and be rewarded for their full spectrum efforts in running their business, and not just for the quality of their product; health standards are only one part of the equation. Equally, consumers have the right to full transparency and trust in food companies that operate at high environmental and ethical standards, in addition to providing healthy food products for us, our friends, family, and kids.

The labels mentioned above should be not be overshadowed by this rating, but should be leveraged and used in the rating process. Other measurement systems should be leveraged as well, such as the Green Accounting system in the works, LEED ratings for building operations, and even CEO pay compared to employee pay should be taken in to account; as well as many other factors not mentioned. There should be differentiation between small, medium, large, and public companies. The operational nature of a small, local food company is a lot different than the complex operational network of a large conglomerate food company; the rating system should take this in to account and adjust the standards and calculations accordingly. In some ways, a holistic rating system may even be favorable to smaller companies, because a less complex supply chain and single office location, may allow for the necessary adjustments (for rating) to be made, simple and straightforward.

I think the food industry is poised to accommodate a universal rating system like this, plus it isn’t over regulation. Even in the beginning, I think new companies will have incentive and should be rewarded for their ability to address and adjust every facet of their business to function successfully in a culture that holds a high standard for not only the health and source of our food, but also the social and environmental impact we have as consumers and companies.

 

References:

1: “Newman’s Own as Alternative Economics”, Engler, Mark  : http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-engler/newmans-own-as-alternativ_b_754063.html

2: “There are three potential problems with a social enterprise label for Europe”, Addarii, Filippo : https://www.theguardian.com/social-enterprise-network/2012/oct/26/social-enterprise-label-europe

3: Fair Trade USA : http://fairtradeusa.org/

4: USDA Organic : https://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?navid=organic-agriculture

5: Non-GMO Project: https://www.nongmoproject.org/

 

Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) -Seattle

Stormwater and green infrastructure:

Public utility companies, cities, and neighborhoods continue to deal with stormwater and wastewater management. The goal is to eliminate pollutant discharge in to our protected water ways. “About two-thirds of Seattle is served by a combined or partially-separated sewer system. Completely separated systems serve the other one-third.”[1] This means during a heavy rain, the water you see running in to the drains, is likely combining with sewage at some point, and overflows directly in to the puget sound or ship canal.  Even if stormwater systems are not combined with sewer, the stormwater carries pollutants such as petroleum, tiny metals, cigarette butts, trash, and bacteria and viruses. Here is a pdf addressing the issue in Ballard, where most sewage/stormwater overflow dumps in to salmon bay.

https://www.seattle.gov/util/cs/groups/public/@spu/@drainsew/documents/webcontent/01_025404.pdf

Seattle Public Utilities and the City of Seattle have created plans and programs to mitigate overflow, and effectively manage stormwater. One main solution is to build additional underground temporary storage and/or retrofit and update existing drainage pipe infrastructure. The second main solution is green infrastructure, which has lower upfront construction costs, and by far adds more social and economic value to the communities in which the projects are installed. Green infrastructure (in terms of stormwater management) includes rain gardens for water detention, bio-swales, green roofs, cisterns, porous pavement, de-paving, and planting trees.

Programs and Plans:

700 Million Gallons

http://www.700milliongallons.org/

This site is in coordination with RainWise Rebates, a program that provides up to $3.50 per square foot of an approved rain garden project at your house or neighborhood. Here is a map of rebate eligible neighborhoods, based on their proximity to combined sewer overflow (CSO) systems.

rainwise-rebaite-eligible

Here is a map showing data on projects installed in coordination with 700 million gallons.

gsi-around-you

Things I noted:

1: Most projects are happening in single family neighborhoods

2: Not much action in SODO, industry along the Duwamish, and downtown.

Neighborhood Matching Fund

http://www.seattle.gov/neighborhoods/programs-and-services/neighborhood-matching-fund

Through the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, community groups and non-profits can apply for a matching grant of up to $100,000 for a project that increases civic engagement and benefits the community or neighborhood in clear ways.

The Beacon Food Forest Phase 2 project was recently awarded $99,960, nearly matching their fundraised amount of $110,450.  The Beacon Food Forest is located in Jefferson Park, and provides a large community P-patch with equipment, an outdoor kitchen, and other amenities. This match has been significant for the Beacon Food Forest, and there is potential for neighborhood green infrastructure projects to be matched as well.

Neighborhood Park and Street Funds

http://www.seattle.gov/neighborhoods/programs-and-services/neighborhood-park-and-street-fund

Also through the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, SDOT provided nearly 2 million dollars for street improvement projects. Here is a link to a pdf showing the project descriptions.

http://www.seattle.gov/Documents/Departments/Neighborhoods/NPSF/2017-NPSF-Awarded-projects.pdf

The cost of these projects are a little mind boggling to me ($90,000 for Curb bulbs at McGilvra Blvd E & E Madison St & E Garfield St), but they state that Seattle residents democratically decide where to spend the funds. There is potential here for budgets to increase, and GSI projects to be installed.

Overall:

For individual homeowners and community/neighborhood organizers, there are subsidy and rebate programs available. For builders and developers, there are no programs I could find endorsed by the City of Seattle, only encouragement. Slowly the smaller residential and neighborhood projects will add up and achieve scale. But I think city governments need to invest substantially more dollars to allow for developers to plan these projects in our downtown and industrial zones. For one, these areas combined contribute more pollutants and two, can achieve the scale to transform a city’s effectiveness in managing wastewater and stormwater, by investing and saving significant dollars in the long run.

This is a pdf prepared by the city of Seattle in which they are working with the firm CMG landscape architecture, to develop and build a comprehensive street scape plan for an area of South Lake Union.

https://www.seattle.gov/dpd/cs/groups/pan/@pan/documents/web_informational/dpdp025729.pdf

CMG Landscape Architects operate out of San Francisco. There portfolio includes the Treasure Island Master Plan project which is the largest plan ever to achieve LEED-ND platinum certification. Globally it is 1 of 17 LEED-ND platinum projects.

http://www.cmgsite.com/treasure-island-awarded-highest-level-leed/

 

Here is a list of websites that show the City of Philadelphia as a precedent for GSI investment:

https://www.greenbiz.com/blog/2012/02/03/major-dividends-cities-reap-investing-green-infrastructure

https://www.nrdc.org/resources/wanted-green-acres-how-philadelphias-greened-acre-retrofit-program-catalyzing-low-cost

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/pascal-mittermaier/green-city-clean-waters-a_b_12621750.html

http://www.phillywatersheds.org/what_were_doing/documents_and_data/cso_long_term_control_plan

 

Sources:

  1. http://www.seattle.gov/util/Documents/Plans/StormwaterManagementPlan/index.htm
  2. http://www.700milliongallons.org/
  3. https://www.seattle.gov/util/cs/groups/public/@spu/@drainsew/documents/webcontent/01_025404.pdf
  4. http://www.seattle.gov/util/cs/groups/public/@spu/@drainsew/documents/webcontent/1_050326.pdf
  5. http://www.seattle.gov/util/EnvironmentConservation/Projects/GreenStormwaterInfrastructure/index.htm

 

Systems Education for Children

Whether it was the volcano project, or the “dropping the watermelon off the roof” example of gravity, these are examples of educating students about systems. For me, in elementary school, we had a program called “salmon in the classroom” where in our hallways there was a fish tank for salmon hatching. Each year, we would watch as salmon eggs hatched and grew in to tiny fish, then we would collect the fish, take them to the UW salmon pond, and they would be released into portage bay. This learning activity was so fundamental to my understanding and appreciation of the life-cycle of salmon, as well as to the historic and cultural relevance of salmon to the pacific northwest. The point being, is that when kids are educated about living systems, that knowledge and appreciation can become so fundamentally ingrained into one’s habits and attitudes during adulthood. So why not use school buildings and school grounds as an example and platform to teach students how energy, water, and humans operate as interdependent systems.

bertschi-school-kids

The Bertschi School in Capitol Hill, Seattle, is a great example of this. The Bertschi School and its’ building/design partners attempted the Living Building Challenge (for the west science-wing of their building), which is essentially a measurement system that sets the goal of creating a building that generates more energy than it uses, captures and treats all water on site (rain, gray, black) and uses healthy building materials. The building is fully equipped to meet this challenge, but due to regulatory barriers and lengthy permitting processes (concerning potable water, utilities jurisdictions, etc), the building does not operate completely as a closed system, yet.

Importantly though, the education programs within the school are tightly connected to these building innovations. A pebble-lined stream runs through a classroom and is a looking glass in to the flow of rainwater being collected from the roof; a teaching lesson for watersheds, rivers and streams. Gardening beds are used every spring and summer, educating students about growing food, all while reusing either treated graywater or collected rain. A vegetated green wall is on large display and showcases the process of phytoremediation. Maximized natural light and clean air are the norm, by using building materials clear of anything toxic. The project involved multiple third parties; architecture firm, construction, landscape firm, etc. and costs were almost completely fundraised. Jerry Seinfeld said that innovation happens when you start by saying: “you know what I’m sick of?”. Well, i’m sick of not seeing more schools like the Bertschi school.