Dole Packaged Foods’ new sustainability commitment is based on a Japanese philosophy called 'sampo yochi' — in which business operates for the good of the seller, the buyer and society.
On Tuesday, Dole Packaged Foods announced a new “Promise” — a series of sweeping commitments for tackling food waste, eliminating processed sugar and plastics, and improving nutrition globally by 2025; and to be carbon neutral by 2030. The Promise is based on the adoption of a more sustainable and equitable business model, centered around an 18th-century Japanese philosophy called sampo yochi — in which business operates for the good of the seller, the buyer and society.
And today, dramatic changes in business are more urgent than ever — as issues such as food insecurity persist alongside egregious levels of food waste, and the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic will no doubt have profound impacts globally for many years to come.
We spoke with Dole President Pier Luigi Sigismondi about being inspired by his environmentally aware daughters, and what he hopes the ‘Promise’ will help the company achieve.
The Dole Promise is centered around the ‘triple satisfaction’ concept of ‘sampo yoshi’. How have you drawn on this philosophy in developing the key principles?
PLS: Sampo yoshi is a philosophy born in Japan in the 18th century, where everything is interconnected — so that the benefits to the buyer, the seller and the community are equally important. Today, we might describe it as a business model where planet, people and prosperity coexist; not one at the expense of the others.
It has been demonstrated that if you embark on this journey, you can certainly find ways to make a business more profitable, more resilient and more successful in the long term; while also doing good for your society, your employees and the communities around you.
And that’s why we are here today, as Dole brings to life a new business model — which shows how a 169-year-old company can develop this notion of doing what is good for us as a business, as well as for society, the environment and our consumers. We believe that if we strike that balance, we can have a very successful future ahead of us.
Why do you think that these ideas are so important today, particularly in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic?
PLS: Dole has always been inspired by providing access to good nutrition, which I personally believe is a human right. Unfortunately, for many years, there has been a big gap in society between the haves and the have nots, where poor nutrition and illnesses like diabetes have increased exponentially. As we were crafting our purpose, we felt that we had to continue our venture — which is about closing the gaps by providing access to good nutrition.
Today, according to the World Food Programme, there are 265 million people at risk of starvation or food insecurity. This is a major paradox when you consider the amount of food that is wasted. And now with COVID-19, supply chains are being disrupted and farmers are suffering from a shortage of labor.
At Dole, we believe we can provide a business model that will convert food waste into an affordable and easily available source of nutrition. And hopefully, we can create an example that other companies will follow.
From an environmental point of view, we saw that even pre-COVID, CO2 emissions were starting to level off. Today, because of the virus keeping us at home, we are seeing how beautiful the planet can be with clear blue skies. But COVID also poses a threat to global sustainability because the cost of fossil fuels has come down dramatically, weakening the business case for renewables. And as capital is limited, there will be less focus on investing in new technologies for the future, as most government priorities will be on job creation right now. On one hand, COVID-19 has created more awareness of what it means to live in a cleaner environment; but on the other hand, it could lead to delays in reaching the Sustainable Development Goals.
We are aware that this might not be the easiest time to stick our necks out and state what we believe in. But I think it is time for us to get out of our comfort zone. Of course, we may not have all the answers, but we believe it is the right thing to do — which is why Dole is announcing its Promise today.
How has the need to care for future generations, and listening to the voices of young people, influenced your decision-making process?
PLS: I have three daughters — aged 23, 17 and 13; and have been fortunate to be able to spend more time at home with them. Like many young people today, they have these profound questions about adults and governments. We have been watching the news together and also reflecting on what is happening in the US and around the world. I’ve been surprised at how aware they are of what is happening. This is how the new generations are thinking today. They’re so much more aware, informed and sensitive to today’s planetary issues than I could ever have imagined.
They are asking me what we are doing to make a difference. Why is it that for every minute that we are sitting having dinner, there is a rubbish truck full of plastic being dumped in the ocean? As a company, we cannot just say, ‘yes we’re working on it.’ This is not the answer.
Multinationals are being heavily questioned. In the past, they have always been on the defensive, justifying what they are doing because they are creating jobs and bringing good nutrition. But I think the time has come for us to talk to consumers much more honestly. These are very serious questions we need to answer.
The world we have created is not something our children deserve, and that’s why we are here today — to be inspired by a sense of purpose and by the kids we have at home, who are asking these questions that must be answered sooner rather than later. They are posing the questions that must be answered from a business leadership point of view. In my opinion, there is no time to waste.
You will be collaborating with a number of other organizations. How important are these partnerships in helping you reach the ambitious targets set out in the Promise?
PLS: The world has moved in a new direction with new technologies that are driven by venture capital funds and startups, and it would be a disgrace not to leverage this. So, our model is to tap into the best of what is going on in the world in order to capture the transformation.
Our challenge is to create a model where we can connect them all together in an ecosystem of people that can help us find those answers. That’s why we have put together the Dole investment fund, that will allow us to support many startups and invest in brands that share our sense of purpose.
We are working in partnership with some amazing organizations — such as Forum for the Future, which has kept us honest in the challenges and the commitments we are making today. The Future Foods Institute is helping us craft amazing products that are all plant-based and driven by millennials and young students in the University of Bologna in Italy. And Solidaridad is a development agency that we have had the pleasure of working with in the past. They will help us with our farmers in South East Asia so that we can increase their income and make them more successful.
And these are only the first of many partners we will work with. We are also talking to governments and are hiring people internally that will help us deal with these issues — including youngsters, who will give us those kinds of solutions that we don’t have today.
We will be monitoring our progress and reporting back on a yearly basis. I am very excited about this, because that is the way we learn how to re-invent ourselves both personally and as a business. We are not perfect, but we believe we have what we need to make a difference.