How Do You Define Sustainability?

Posted January 25th, 2018

At the 2017 Sustainable Agriculture Summit in November, farmers, retailers, marketers, and consumers affirmed the importance of sustainability, yet emphasized the role of different metrics, practices, and outcomes in how it’s defined.

Definitions of sustainability differed depending on organizational values, business goals, and customer expectations. While no one formal definition was agreed upon, based on the dialogue during presentations and panel discussions, an informal consensus could likely be found around the following:

Sustainability is defined as a commitment to measurement and continuous improvement around three pillars - people, the planet, and economic viability.

Despite nuances in defining sustainability, retailers like Walmart, consumer packaged goods companies like Campbell Soup Company, conservation groups like World Wildlife Fund, and farmers, all identified similar environmental issues as important areas for sustainability best practices, improvement, and reporting, including:

  • water quality
  • water use efficiency
  • energy use
  • healthy soils (organic matter, nitrogen, and phosphorus management)
  • greenhouse gas reductions
  • animal well-being
  • food waste
  • biodiversity

During a panel discussion, Brittni Furrow, Senior Director of Sustainability & Global Food Businesses of Walmart Stores Inc., offered insight on what drives the demand for sustainability and the future of the supply chain, including an emphasis on transparency. She noted the increasing consumer expectation of transparency in corporate action and communications, along with the need to consistently provide credible and verifiable information to customers.

“This year, in particular, has been the year we have [received] the most inquiries and serious attention from institutional investors – not the social-impact investors, but core institutional investors who value our stock [and] want to know what we are doing about climate change,” said Furrow. “For years, our Chief Sustainability Officer has been telling our CFO and head of investor relations that investors are going to care about this, and we need to be taking this seriously. Well, that happened this year. In 2017, every single one of our institutional investors asked us about our IR team climate program and how we are evaluating climate risk.”

She also noted the importance of millennial consumers and their advocacy of the issue of climate change. “Our millennial consumer will be 35 percent of our retail sales by 2020, and they are making it very clear that sustainability matters. Lots of studies tell us climate change is the number one global concern that the millennial generation cares about, and they are looking to purchase with a brand they trust doing the right work on the issues they care about.”

Events like the Sustainable Agriculture Summit help Almond Board of California (ABC) participate in the global sustainability conversation. Regardless of how you define it, it’s important to share dialogue about sustainability, while staying ahead of emerging trends. The California Almond community, through ABC, has invested nearly $70 million over the past 40 years to build a foundation of research on environmental, production, and other issues to continually evolve best practices and support various sustainability1 topics, resulting in an abundance of knowledge, best practices, and continuous improvement as an industry.


Learn more about the ABC’s legacy of research investment and continued commitment to innovation here.


1Sustainable almond farming utilizes production practices that are economically viable and are based upon scientific research, common sense and a respect for the environment, neighbors and employees. The result is a plentiful, nutritious, safe food product.