KANSAS CITY — For many Americans, it’s not enough that the companies they buy their foods and other consumer goods from provide good quality at a reasonable price.

More and more, consumers also want to know that the stores and brands they patronize share their values. And companies are listening, with increased attention to sustainability, worker and animal welfare and many other concerns that fall under the category of corporate responsibility.

Erik Gonring, director of sustainability for Hartsville, S.C.-based Novolex, said that some of the main planks in the company’s corporate responsibility platform include innovating sustainable product choices for its customers, operating responsibly and investing in the communities where its employees live and work.

“As a leading packaging provider, we acknowledge a special responsibility to develop solutions that reduce the impact of our product on the environment,” Gonring said. “Every day, we’re investing in the people and new technologies designed to lead the marketplace in sustainability.”

From a product perspective, Novolex partners with its customers to identify raw materials and product designs that afford balance between societal needs, greenhouse gases and product disposal.

In the past year, the fruits of that commitment have included:

  • The introduction of produce packaging made from 100% recycled content from Novolex’s Waddington Europe division;
  • Compostable meat and produce trays made from sugarcane from the company’s Eco-Products brand; and
  • The recent acquisition of Flexo Converters USA, Inc., which will allow Novolex’s Duro Bag brand to increase its supply of fully recyclable paper grocery bags.

In addition to those new products and developments, Novolex continues to invest more heavily in optimizing the use of raw materials, investing in energy efficiency and reducing the amount of waste sent to landfills, Gonring said.

For example, despite the pandemic, the company has continued to recycle films collected through store drop off programs, and it recently installed a water treatment system in one of its own recycling facilities that helps increases the quality and volume of recycled material used to manufacture new products. Through this system upgrade, its recycling center capacity has grown by 550,000 lbs. annually.

Novolex’s employees play a crucial role in delivering on the company’s corporate responsibility goals, Gonring said.

“We work to engage our teams across the board with programs that encourage skills growth, sustainable action and product innovation,” he said.

One of the ways Novolex accomplished that during COVID was through the establishment of its Rapid Innovation Teams, a project management approach the company took to solve problems and generate new ideas quickly.

The process not only helped Novolex’s remote team members stay connected, Gonring said. It also led to one of its most meaningful contributions during the pandemic: converting machines that once produced bags for fruit and can liners into machines that could produce personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline workers at scale.

Over the years, Novolex’s corporate responsibility efforts have evolved to implement more enterprise-wide programs, Gonring said.

In 2020, the company announced a greenhouse gas reduction target for its operations – 20% by 2025. The decision was made in recognition of the importance of contributing to the global effort to reduce climate change impacts, including increasing global temperatures, severe weather events and sea level rise.

Since establishing that benchmark, Novolex has achieved a 10% reduction in Scope 1 and 2 emissions per ton of production, thanks to renewable energy purchases and energy efficiency investments in its facilities.

Additionally, for the past three years Novolex has published raw material metrics that transparently share its journey in raw material sourcing sustainability.

“We believe it’s important to share this progress and contribute to the discussion about opportunities to increase the circular economy for a range of materials,” Gonring said.

New this year, Novolex shared in its 2020 sustainability report that 49% of its raw materials are derived from either renewable or post-consumer recycled sources. These efforts are also in the interest of measuring and evaluating Novolex efforts to reduce climate change impacts.

When it comes to its customers, Novolex focuses on a strategic dialogue about the options it can provide to enable them to achieve their sustainability goals, Gonring said. The company also works to promote its product development efforts through a range of activities, conversations with customers first and foremost, but also including social media, conferences, traditional media and more.

“This helps create awareness and drive demand for a range of emerging new product types, each of which can bring different sustainability advantages.”

Founding principles

When it comes to corporate responsibility, Northglenn, Colo.-based Niman Ranch is different from other brands in that it was founded by farmers and ranchers with a mission grounded in responsible agriculture and building a model that is good for farmers, animals, the environment and, ultimately, the end consumer, said Chris Oliviero, the company’s general manager.

This values-driven approach isn’t something the company has had to add to its workload over the years, he added —it’s foundational to who Niman Ranch is.

“We see corporate responsibility as always working to ensure the wellbeing of our farmers and ranchers, the planet, animals in our care and everyone along the supply chain. By doing right in each of these areas, the positive impacts ripple out to the surrounding community and environment.”

For every decision Niman Ranch makes, the company considers four pillars: family farmers, sustainability, animal care and great taste. Balancing these priorities, Oliviero said, makes decision-making complex in some ways, but also quite clear in others.

“If a change to our business will prove to be a significant hardship to our farmers, for instance, we go back to the drawing board and look for alternative solutions or ways to help our farmers with the change.”

Today’s consumer is more educated than ever and wants full transparency about the brands they choose to support with their purchases, Oliviero said.

Consumers have evolved by moving away from a single issue focus — animal welfare, for instance —and instead are looking for businesses that check all the boxes: climate friendly, fair to farmers, supporting diversity and equity, providing safe worker environments across the supply chain and more. These different areas and issues of concern will only continue to increase, he said, particularly as millennial and Gen Z purchasing power increases.

Take climate change.

“You would have to be living under a rock to not be concerned about the devastating impacts we are seeing today due to extreme weather and climate change,” Oliviero said. “As those realities become more apparent, that encourages everyone — businesses and consumers alike — to see how they can do more to help our planet.”

Niman Ranch is hopeful and excited by the promise regenerative agriculture holds for supporting the environment, he added. The company is currently working to both better quantify and increase the positive impacts its farmers and ranchers have on the planet through practices that support soil health, carbon sequestration and biodiversity.

A company’s commitment to corporate responsibility has a much better chance of making an impact if its messaging can be effectively communicated.

For Niman Ranch, product packaging plays an important role for consumers not yet familiar with the company’s attributes to help drive purchases, Oliviero said.

Niman Ranch’s packaging highlights 100% Certified Humane, no antibiotics/hormones ever and the company’s commitment to sourcing from small independent family farmers.

“We also work with our retail partners to help share our responsibility practices with their customers,” Oliviero added. “We’ve utilized instore displays to communicate our responsibility messaging with QR code meat case clings, shelf talkers, video displays and more.”

Niman Ranch has also partnered on promotions where, rather than receiving a discount, Niman Ranch has committed to donating to a partner aligned with its pillars, like the National Young Farmer Coalition.

“We’ve found that a sizeable segment of our customer-base is more driven by doing good with their dollars than receiving a discount.”

Protecting the land, its animals —and people

Westminster, Colo.-based Panorama Organic Grass-Fed Meats delivers certified organic, 100% grass-fed and grass-finished beef that has been raised humanely by US ranchers dedicated to regenerative agricultural practices.

The company was founded by a group of ranchers who wanted to take care of the environment, the animals, their families and provide a better product for consumers, said Kay Cornelius, general manager.

With a special label to show the commitment to US ranchers, Panorama’s founders wanted customers and consumers to know that they offered something unique.

“That’s more important now than it was 20 years ago,” Cornelius said. “The organic, grass-fed aspects of regenerative agriculture have grown significantly.”

The past five years have also elevated the health concerns of consumers’ eating habits, she added, and organic, grass-fed is an important part of many diets, including KETO, Whole30 and Paleo. Many doctors also recommend organic grass-fed beef as part of a healthy diet.

Panorama also works closely with its partners to make sure its corporate responsibility messages are heard.

One recent example is the company’s joint announcement with the National Audubon Society, in which Panorama committed to the largest market-based regenerative grasslands partnership in the US to certify one million acres of wildlife habitat with Audubon’s Conservation Ranching Initiative.

The Audubon Conservation Ranching logo will be on all of Panorama’s packaging starting this fall so that customers and consumers know that their purchase is going to support something much bigger, Cornelius said – “a tangible way to restore the planet and preserve the environment.”

Panorama also put together a magazine with Edible Communities, The Panorama Perspective, to communicate its mission, share stories about ranching families and explain where the meat comes from and how it is raised.

The magazine includes recipes to help people understand the differences involved in cooking grass-fed meat, as well as features by journalists and other thought leaders. Panorama also uses more modern media, including podcasts and social media, to get its messages across.

“We make information accessible and transparent,” Cornelius said.