Business Case
Food and Fiber Sectors Cultivate Impact with Applied Sustainable Agriculture

On October 25, panelists representing both global brands and smaller local organizations convened in San Francisco to discuss their successes and potential in incorporating climate-friendly agricultural practices into their supply chains. The panel took place at The Perennial, a Bay Area restaurant committed to sustainable farming with the conviction that “food has the power to reverse climate change.” The panel discussion built on that theme, with further exploration into how the textile industry also has the power to enact positive impact on climate.

“North America used to be covered with all kinds of large herbivores who have been involved in carbon sequestration for millennia,” explained Rebecca Burgess, Executive Director of Fibershed, a platform for mapping regional and regenerative fiber systems and connecting consumers to local producers. The California nonprofit works with “carbon farmers” such as Lani Estill, rancher and fiber artist at Bare Ranch, who elaborated on her regenerative and certified Climate Beneficial farming practices: “Sheep eat grass, which stimulates it to grow, and that growth sequesters carbon.”

The benefits of these processes are wearable in many forms, including that of the “Cali Wool Beanie,” a product born from the efforts of Fibershed to empower independent regional producers and enable brands such as The North Face (TNF) to connect consumers to local producers and products.

“This wool is carbon-negative,” stated panelist James Rogers, Senior Sustainability Manager of the 50-year-old outdoor clothing brand, in regard to the Cali Wool Beanie project, which features a hat produced entirely in the USA using wool sourced from Bare Ranch.

Burgess approached The North Face five years ago, proposing that they collaborate on a product made from materials sourced from within a 150-mile radius of the company’s San Francisco Bay Area headquarters. While the challenge proved to be ambitious beyond its current capabilities, it kicked off TNF’s first initiative inspired by Fibershed, known as The Backyard Project, through which the outdoor apparel brand has focused more of its attention on domestic fabric sourcing and manufacturing. The Cali Wool Beanie represents these efforts to make more products “right in their own backyard.”

Brian Durkee, COO of Numi Organic Tea; along with Dan Stangler — Business Unit Director of Annie’s Homegrown — shared insights into the impacts of sustainable agriculture within the food and beverage industry. Numi, with its business pillars of “people, planet, and pure tea,” works with tea farmers to help them become organic and to partner up with other organic farmers to become stronger.

“To consume a cup of tea in the West, 65 percent of carbon emissions take place at the farm level,” Durkee said, “while 25 percent are at the packaging level” — which is why the company also works to improve the sustainability of its packaging. Durkee even hinted that Numi hopes to shortly roll out the product of nearly ten years of research and development: A 100 percent compostable tea wrapper, which could divert half a million pounds of waste from the landfill.

With similar priorities for its farming practices, Annie’s Homegrown also works hard on organic sourcing, having recently doubled its amount of organic acreage, according to Stangler: “We are really excited about soil at Annie’s. 90 percent of the world’s food comes from soil. We need a lot more brands to be excited about carbon farming and soil health.”

Running with Stangler’s sentiment, further questions to the panel sparked discussion as to what will help these farming-focused initiatives scale up. On top of the consensus that more brands joining these efforts will mean big progress across the board, the panelists agreed that getting a wider spectrum of consumers on board is key, especially in America’s divisive political climate.

“If we turn people off,” Stangler argued, “we’re going to miss the opportunity to have the impact that these initiatives could have.”

Estill agreed that brands have the opportunity to unite consumers: “'Made in the USA' is huge. It resonates with a lot of people no matter what their thoughts on climate change might be.”

As chef Anthony Myint summed it up, the work of these companies and consumers’ growing interest in those results are what “justify the reason for a restaurant like The Perennial to even exist,” and why we’ll hopefully continue to see more brands across different industries justify further progress toward sustainable agriculture.


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