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Nature’s Path: Small changes lead to big differences

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From The Organic Report, Fall 2010
By Jennifer Rose

As a child growing up on an organic berry farm in Vancouver, Arran Stephens learned an important lesson from his father: always leave the soil better than you found it. Stephens took this lesson to heart, and in 1985, founded Nature’s Path (NP), an organic cereal manufacturing company dedicated to environmental stewardship.

Twenty-five years later, his commitment to sustainability is more vibrant than ever, as is NP’s. “It’s entrenched in our culture,” explains Jyoti Stephens, Arran Stephen’s daughter and NP’s Director of Sustainability and Stewardship. “It’s central to everything we do.”

One needs only to look at employees’ schedules and work plans to see that this is true. Every few months, all NP employees are required to participate in training programs to review and discuss the Declaration of Sustainability, an 11-point action plan (of which NP is among the first signatories) that was created [when] for the organic food trade to move toward more sustainable business models. They are also expected to work with their peers and identify ways in which the work they do as a group, related to the lifecycle of NP products, can be made more sustainable. Additionally, all NP employees are required to develop two to three sustainability-related goals. These goals are then incorporated into both their individual work plans and performance reviews. “We see sustainability as one of our employees’ core competencies. To us, it is just as important as leadership and communication in the workplace,” says Stephens.

Evidence of this attitude can also be found in NP’s many efforts to reduce its carbon footprint. The company offers employees a $1,000 grant toward the purchase of hybrid vehicles, as well as a system by which they can earn points and money towards either more environmentally friendly transportation or a donation to a local food bank. At the same time, it has established goals of becoming zero-waste certified by the end of 2010 and completely carbon neutral by 2020.

Impressively, NP is well on its way to achieving these goals.  Before implementing its “Green My Ride” program, approximately 12% of NP’s team members used greener forms of transit. Since launching the program, this number has increase to 30%. By sending food waste to local farmers for animal feed and improving the production system to minimize the number of spill points, the company has also successfully diverted 80 percent of its food waste away from landfills.

“We’re working to make the push for the last 20 percent,” Stephens explains, adding that NP is working closely with recyclers to make this happen.

NP has also taken steps to reduce waste by streamlining its packaging. It has reduced the size of its granola cereal packages by 10 percent. In doing so, the company was able to avoid using 65 tons of paperboard while increasing the number of boxes it cNature's Path Granola Barsould ship on a single palette. “It’s been a great move for us,” Stephens observes. “Not only have we been able to reduce our paper usage, which helps to save money and natural resources, but we’ve also been able to ship our product more efficiently. It’s really a win-win situation.”

Similar success has been achieved through the company’s decision to redesign its cereal “eco-packs.”  By replacing traditional  packaging with stand-up, block-bottom bags filled with bulk cereal, NP has reduced its plastic usage per bag by 10 percent and eliminated the need for cereal boxes entirely. “Numbers like this speak to the huge difference that even small changes can make,” Stephens says.

NP’s close attention to the way its products are processed has also paid off in its quest for carbon neutrality. “Thanks to continuous and careful examine of our internal operations, we have been able to identify and address areas of inefficiency in the production process,” explains Stephens. Just this year, the company has undertaken two major projects to retrofit machinery with new technology that is expected to reduce its natural gas usage by 20 percent. Additionally, it purchased Green-E certified renewable energy credits for the electricity used at its manufacturing plants and head office, supplementing the gains achieved by making its production process more efficient.

Ideally, NP would like to produce its own renewable energy. In the meantime, the company will continue to seek out ways to engage its employees to reduce its waste stream, improve efficiency, and decrease its dependence on external energy sources.

Echoing her grandfather’s sentiments, Stephens says, “We want to foster a culture where everyone at NP is inspired to think creatively about what we do and how we can do it even better than we do now.”