Sustainability in our own backyard

Each year, my colleagues in Frontier Co-op’s purchasing department travel the globe to source herbs, spices, and essential oils — ensuring not just quality, but that our products are produced in ways that are good for growers and the planet. aerialfrontier

Sourcing from more than 50 countries gives us a global perspective on sustainability. And we’re firmly rooted in Eastern-Iowa farm country as well. So when we were approached recently to sign on as one of the first members of the Iowa Sustainable Business Forum, a brand-new coalition of Iowa companies looking to tackle sustainability issues, it was only natural for us to join.

I recently had the chance to attend the Forum’s kick-off event, which was taking place just down the road from our headquarters in Norway, Iowa.

isbf_logoIt was inspiring to arrive and see that nearly 20 other Iowa companies also prioritized sustainability enough to be there. As I got acquainted with the others, I realized that Frontier is part of a community of companies making progress toward more sustainable business practices — from responsible sourcing to recycling to protecting bees to conserving water — right here in our Midwestern backyard. It was also gratifying to see the diversity of Iowa businesses that are working on sustainability issues. These include a small community bank as well as a multi-national financial services company, and our own natural and organic products co-operative and more mainstream food and agribusiness companies. Some businesses are just beginning their sustainability journey, while others have been focusing on the issues for years. But across the board, there was a genuine interest in making business more sustainable and an openness to sharing successful approaches with others.

I’ve been working on business sustainability for a while but I’m still a newcomer to Iowa, so to get a better perspective on Iowa’s issues and this group, I talked with Adam Hammes, an Iowa native who has played a lead role in getting the Iowa Sustainable Business Forum off the ground.

The genesis for the forum, Adam told me, came when he was working on sustainability issues for a major Iowa company and having adhoc get-togethers with like-minded people from other local businesses. The group was informal but saw real value in sharing sustainability successes and challenges. Eventually, Adam collaborated with Iowa State University to do a broad survey of Iowa businesses, including Frontier Co-op, and found that others in the state also wanted to be part of a sustainable business conversation. That set the Sustainable Business Forum in motion.

I asked Adam what he felt a group of Iowa-based companies could add to the global conversation on sustainable business. His answer was simple but thoughtful: we need local solutions to global problems. This rings true to the experience that Frontier Co-op has had over the years in initiatives for reducing waste reduction, increasing renewable energy and supporting the local community. Our challenges are often similar to those facing others around the world, but the resources we harness to address them need to be found right here at home.

I left the first Sustainable Business Forum event with a pocketful of business cards of kindred spirits from other local companies who I intend to follow up with to gain their insights, and I’m excited for the Forum’s next meeting.

Over the years, Frontier has taken many steps forward to make our business good for people and the planet, but we certainly haven’t found all the solutions. We look forward to learning from our Iowa neighbors and working together with them through the Iowa Sustainable Business Forum to find those local solutions to our global problems.


Seth PetchersAbout the Author:  Leveraging 15 years of on-the-ground experience in sustainable global supply chains — including two years working for Fair Trade in rural India — Seth Petchers leads Frontier Co-op’s efforts to deepen its sustainable sourcing and operations programs. He’s developing initiatives to further support socially and environmentally responsible suppliers; strengthen and expand Frontier’s pioneering Well Earth sourcing program; and reduce the company’s environmental footprint.

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