Claire Donoghue: Putting Sustainability into Action
February 20, 2020
As sustainability has gained attention in recent years, research on achieving meaningful and measurable impact in food and agriculture has too. But it is not always easy to translate this information for different agricultural regions and industry sectors. This is why OSI has made the sharing of best practices a central focus of its sustainability efforts.
OSI’s commitment to educating stakeholders has enabled partners in the supply chain to pass lessons on sustainability from the marketplace to farmers, who can act on them. It has also shown that communication can empower people across the industry and teach them not only what the best practices are, but also how to implement them in their businesses. Beyond simply disseminating information on sustainability, OSI’s goal is to communicate across the industry in a way that empowers people to learn and better their operations.
“With sustainability practices, we have seen that more farmers might institute the practices if nothing more is done than simply sharing the basic information about it,” said OSI Operations Director and European Head of Sustainability Claire Donoghue. “But when we make the information tangible to a target audience that includes information specific to their operations and communicate it in an engaging way, we can increase the percentage of adoption more than ever.”
OSI sees this through its involvement with sustainable beef roundtables. The European Roundtable for Beef Sustainability (ERBS), for example, allows leaders in the beef industry from across the supply chain to share best practices and tangible solutions to challenges within their operations.
Donoghue, who chairs the technical working group for the ERBS,said this dialogue leads to farmers and suppliers implementing best practices and delivering meaningful impact. Farmers are more likely to change some of their own farming methods after seeing other farmers successfully implement sustainability practices.
THE MAIN DRIVERS IN THE SUSTAINABILITY JOURNEY
OSI relies on a diverse group of stakeholders with a broad collection of values and motivations to deliver world-class products to its customers. This diversity can create challenges when implementing systematic changes. Donoghue points out, however, that despite these differences, OSI has been able to develop strong partnerships within its supply chain by engaging with, rather than ignoring contrasting goals.
“Once we know how to connect with people on a level that excites them, we can use this information to invoke behavioral change and advance their sustainability journey,” said Donoghue. “If we know some people will change their behavior because of financial benefits, then that is our best approach to reaching them. For others, we will emphasize environmental benefits or production efficiencies.”
MOTIVATING PARTNERS ON SUSTAINABILITY THROUGH DATA AND COMMUNICATION
The key to achieving meaningful impact in sustainability is understanding what motivates people. Donoghue and OSI have seen this in practice with their supply chain’s Key Welfare Indicators (KWI). For the last few years, OSI has been monitoring key data relating to animal welfare in chicken production. The data is used to compare suppliers’ performances.
OSI shares the results with suppliers, so they know how their animal welfare performance compares to others in the industry. This method of analytics and communication has resulted in a 20 to 80 percent improvement in various animal welfare criteria.
These improvements have far surpassed OSI’s initial expectations of the program. OSI’s culture of communication has encouraged people not only to listen, but to ask for help as well. Beyond making sustainability more accessible across its supply chain, OSI is working on a range of other related goals.
“Sustainability opportunities are both diverse and abundant, which can sometimes hinder progress on specific goals,” said Donoghue. “Instead of having targets that overwhelm or distract us, we are picking out fewer specific goals so we can make meaningful progress before moving onto the next challenge.”
In another project, OSI looked to advance the work of antibiotic stewardship within the supply chain. OSI monitored and measured beef antibiotic use on 60 participating farms across the United Kingdom. The data was used to run a comparative analysis, similar to the one used in the chicken animal welfare project.
After the first round of data became available, every farmer wanted to know who was leading the group. They were also very interested in how practices on their farms compared to best practices identified in the program. Following the announcement of the results, OSI’s Sustainability team watched as farmers compared notes, asked questions and became determined to improve their antibiotic use. Many farmers wanted to reach the top 5 percent of performers.
WORKING TOGETHER AS AN INDUSTRY IS THE KEY TO ADVANCING THE SUSTAINABILITY JOURNEY
While OSI’s animal welfare and antibiotic data projects highlighted individual achievements, they also — more importantly — showed a desire among farmers to collaborate and improve together. Over the course of the programs, farmers asked each other for advice and sought answers about how they could incorporate the best sustainability practices on their own farms.
It was exciting evidence that working together builds momentum, and that OSI and its partners are making progress toward their shared goals.