Every year brings new trends and buzzwords. One of the “buzziest” these days is a concept I think everyone can (or at least should) rally around:
What Is Sustainability?
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):
“Sustainability is based on a simple principle: Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment. To pursue sustainability is to create and maintain the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony to support present and future generations.”
This is a loaded definition, but in layman’s terms, sustainability focuses on ways we can live comfortably and productively on this Earth while still protecting it from damage. It allows us to meet our current needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs.
There are many ways sustainability is observed and applied. Agriculture, manufacturing and other industries, governments, environmental protection agencies, and people in general all have different ways they approach this practice. For example, sustainability in the fashion industry looks a lot different from sustainability in agriculture and construction.
Likewise, the individual practice of living sustainably can vary from person to person. For one, it may mean minimizing waste by recycling, composting, shopping with reusable grocery bags, and so on. For another person, it could mean growing an organic garden and planting new trees every spring, beekeeping or raising chickens, or walking/biking everywhere instead of using a car.
Regardless, the end goal of sustainability is the same across all platforms: To protect and preserve the Earth to the best of our ability. In turn, this leads to cleaner air, water, and land; more abundant natural resources; and improved public health now, and in the future.
Sustainable Food and Farming
While I believe sustainability is important in all industries, the one that affects and concerns me most on both a personal and professional level is food and agriculture.
We need to eat. There’s no way around it. But sadly, conventional farming methods greatly contribute to pollution, climate change, soil degradation, and water scarcity. The sustainable farming movement aims to mitigate these factors by promoting practices that are not only profitable for farmers but environmentally sound and beneficial for communities. Among other things, sustainable farming focuses on:
- optimizing use of available land without converting new spaces into farms;
- building and maintaining healthy, robust soil through crop rotation and other practices;
- minimizing water, land, and air pollution;
- wisely managing the use of water;
- adopting agroforestry, the practice of planting trees and shrubs around crops, which provides shade for plants, increases biodiversity, and reduces erosion;
- practicing responsible pest management.
Organic farming, in particular, incorporates a vast array of sustainable practices. Keep in mind, not all farms that use sustainable practices are organic, but organic produce is much more likely to have been grown sustainably than conventionally farmed varieties.
I strongly believe that food is medicine. What we put in our bodies (or avoid putting in our bodies) affects us in ways great and small. Seeking out and supporting sustainable, organic farms (preferably local farms, though I know this isn’t always possible) is an amazing way to keep a farmer in business, benefit your community and the environment, and nourish your body with the best that nature has to offer. If you don’t do it for yourself, do for your great- and great-great grandkids, so they can inherit a healthy planet.
Nutrition aside, sustainable farming is quickly becoming the answer to an important and looming question…How are we going to continue to feed everyone on this planet?
Our population currently numbers 7.7 billion people. It is estimated that, by 2050, it will reach 9.1 billion. Food production will have to increase by 70 percent to feed this growing population. Continued use of conventional farming simply won’t get us there. We need sustainable agriculture if we have any hope of thriving in the future.
Sustainable Food Packaging
Growing food sustainably is one hurdle. Packaging and delivering it sustainably is a whole other animal.
In a perfect world, everyone would have a farmer’s market around the corner that they could walk to and buy all their organic fruits and veggies, then make most or all of their meals from that fresh, locally grown produce. But that’s just not the case for most people. Even those with excellent diets still need to buy staples at the grocery store that they can’t make on their own. All these foods need to be packaged in a way that allows the product to stay fresh for prolonged periods of time. And not surprisingly, most of this packaging is not eco-friendly and usually ends up in landfills or, worse, our waterways.
Sustainable packaging is slowly starting to become more of a priority for many companies. The problem is, eco-friendly containers and wrappers aren’t exactly easy for the food industry to adopt. First and foremost, it’s a lot more expensive than traditional packaging, and manufacturers are hesitant to spend the money—even though 66% of consumers say they are willing to pay extra for brands that commit to sustainability.
Additionally, the materials currently being used to maintain freshness, withstand temperature changes, and protect contents…they work really well. Though plastic is an environmental disaster, it’s hard to beat its durability and its ability to form tight seals to keep air out and prevent spoilage.
Fortunately, technology continues to improve and safer and more environmentally responsible materials are being developed and tested regularly. And the more consumers demand sustainable alternatives, the more industries will have to comply.
Where Vervana Stands on The Sustainability Issue
I’ve made it my mission to do everything I can to support and practice sustainable food production. On a personal level, I support local organic farms and when I need to buy from a grocery store, I always opt for organic when I can. I recycle, filter my tap water at home instead of relying on bottled water, and walk whenever possible. My wife, Jan, also beautifies our yard with diverse flowers and shrubs. Flowering plants are not only aesthetically pleasing, they support local pollinators like bees and monarch butterflies.
My Vervana business is also becoming much more sustainable. The products we sell are not only high quality, but sustainably sourced.
Our extra-virgin olive oils are made with organic, California-grown olives that are cold pressed without heat or harsh chemical solvents. The fruits, peppers, and herbs used in the flavored oils come from sustainable farms.
Our organic marinara sauce is produced in a green LEED facility with all organically-produced ingredients, and I even had it tested to make sure it was pesticide-free and passed California Prop65! Our raw honey is sourced from a family-owned business in Connecticut that uses extreme care when handling the precious bees and their honey. Supporting healthy environments for bees (and responsible beekeepers) is a big part of sustainable food production and helps prevent the collapse of the bee population.
We’ve made a commitment to sustainable packaging as well. Our oils and sauces come in glass bottles—never plastic. Glass requires less energy to manufacture, and it is made from totally natural substances. Glass can also be recycled endlessly, while plastic loses its integrity after several rounds of recycling. Just as important, glass does not leach any chemicals into food the way plastic is known to.
Of course, glass presents a “fun” challenge when it comes to shipping. Rather than using plastic bubble wrap or foam peanuts, we have committed to packaging products in responsibly sourced, sustainable, biodegradable, or recyclable packaging. We’re not perfect (yet), but we have made great strides to be as eco-friendly as possible.
We have eliminated almost all bubble wrap in favor of paper-based wrap that is reusable, recyclable, and compostable. In lieu of foam peanuts, we have started packing with biodegradable, nontoxic, corn starch-based peanuts that disintegrate when they get wet. And we tape boxes shut with gummed paper tape rather than plastic tape.
These are just a few of the ways that Vervana has committed to the sustainability movement. There will always be room for improvement, but every little step gets us closer to the high vibrational goal of living in complete harmony with the Earth.
- United States Environmental Protection Agency. Learn About Sustainability. Last accessed April 22, 2019.
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 2009. How to Feed the World in 2050. Last accessed April 22, 2019.
- Nielsen. The Sustainability Imperative: New Insights on Consumer Expectations. October 2015. Last accessed April 23, 2019.
© 2019 Stephen Sinatra, M.D. All rights reserved.