Sustainability Is a Way of Thinking: Unified CEO

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Being green is not the same as pursuing sustainability, Al Plamann, chief executive officer of Unified Grocers, Los Angeles, said here during a keynote address to the Sustainability Summit co-sponsored by Food Marketing Institute and Grocery Manufacturers Association. While activities are tangible and generally measurable, sustainability is a mindset a way of thinking about a business

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Being green is not the same as pursuing sustainability, Al Plamann, chief executive officer of Unified Grocers [4], Los Angeles, said here during a keynote address to the Sustainability Summit co-sponsored by Food Marketing Institute and Grocery Manufacturers Association.

“While ‘green’ activities are tangible and generally measurable, sustainability is a mindset — a way of thinking about a business — a mode of leadership and behavior that aims to create lasting value as opposed to short-term transactional wins,” Plamann explained.

Companies often have a hard time separating these two approaches, he said.

“Sustainability is also seen as negatively impacting corporate growth, or vice versa,” he added. “Companies often have difficulty balancing the two and often find both initiatives running up against one another.”

The key to resolving these conflicts, Plamann said, is how companies approach the issue.

“Sustainability is a way of thinking, not an endpoint. It should be integrated into a company's vision, values and core mission statement.

“Companies should recognize that sustainability is a powerful way to forge deeper connections with stakeholders. If programs reduce risk and improve business in a measurable way, they will get stakeholder support.

“Sustainability is a global issue but it begins at the local level. Many sustainability programs deteriorate over time because they over-reach with goals and objectives that are too far-reaching to be realistic. Efforts should focus initially at the local level and then be built upon over time as successes are achieved.

“Business organizations should be flexible in approaching and managing sustainability. The key to success is to be ready, willing and able to change the play when things are not going according to plan.”

Plamann said Unified has incorporated sustainability into its values statement, which says, “Unified Grocers is committed to growing and maintaining its business without sacrificing tomorrow's resources or health of the planet for today's gains.”

Corporate efforts include reducing energy usage during peak hours in all warehouses; reducing water usage at its dairy manufacturing plant in Los Angeles; reducing paper use, including eliminating Styrofoam in all facilities; and promoting sustainable agriculture, he said.

Plamann warned that companies that choose to ignore sustainability do so at their own peril.

“They will soon find themselves competing at a disadvantage, battling to preserve their credibility among stakeholders and fighting to keep loyal customers they have had for years.”