The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Sustainability Series: Perdue Farms

Sustainability Series: Perdue Farms


April 16, 2015

Perdue Farms is the family-owned parent company of Perdue Foods and Perdue AgriBusiness. Their offerings include the leading names in vegetarian-fed natural chicken and turkey; no-antibiotics-ever chicken, turkey and pork; and USDA-certified organic chicken – including the PERDUE®, PERDUE® SIMPLY SMART, PERDUE HARVESTLAND® brands, COLEMAN NATURAL® and COLEMAN ORGANIC® brands; and local West Coast brands ROCKY®, ROSIE®, RANGER® and DRAPER VALLEY FARMS®. We talked to Steve Schwalb, Vice President of Environmental Sustainability at Perdue, about the benefits of pursuing social, environmental and economic goals in the quest for sustainability.

How does your business define sustainability?

At Perdue, sustainability is part of our company‘s corporate responsibility platform, based on this statement: We believe in responsible food and agriculture. Under that, we identified a series of belief statements that are relevant to our various stakeholders, from our associates and customers to the communities in which we operate. They are: 

In 2010, along with establishing this platform, we added "Stewardship" to our company values of Quality, Integrity and Teamwork, making environmental stewardship an accountability within every part of our business.

How are you incorporating sustainable practices into your business?

For decades, our company has set annual corporate goals in the areas of People, Products and Profitability, referred to as our “Three Ps.” The order is intentional, going back to Frank Perdue’s belief that if you take care of your people and treat them with respect and honesty, and provide innovative, quality products and services, then the profits will follow. 

In 2013, we added a Fourth "P" for Planet. First, it demonstrates to each associate our company's commitment to environmental stewardship and their individual accountability to help us reach our goals. Second, it sets measurable goals for reducing our environmental impact. Going forward, our company goals are centered on People, Products, Planet and Profitability. As before, the order is important: putting "Planet" before "Profit" builds upon our company’s long-standing belief that sustainable profitability comes from making decisions based upon our Values, and with a sense of responsibility to all our stakeholders. Those goals, now referred to as our “Four Ps,” are shared across the company through Goal Cards distributed to all associates.

We’ve established environmental scorecard goals for each of our major Perdue facilities. We'll report on our progress over time and set new goals to challenge ourselves to continuously improve. Our environmental initiatives are organized into three sustainability platforms: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, Research and Innovation, and Community Outreach. Guiding and implementing these efforts are the Green Teams for our facilities, cross functional teams that include representation from environmental services, operations, engineering, administration, purchasing, research and development and every aspect of our supply chain.

In addition, we’ve aligned our community relations and philanthropic efforts with our sustainability platforms. We regularly make donations to environmental organizations through the Arthur W. Perdue Foundation. In the last five years alone, more than a quarter million dollars has been donated to environmental causes with the vast majority directly linked to the Chesapeake Bay. Perdue regularly sponsors "Project Clean Stream," a community-focused, grassroots waterway clean-up organized by the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. Our financial support of Project Clean Stream helps the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay organize clean-ups at more than 225 sites involving more than 5,000 volunteers. 

But, we’re especially proud of our associates who have come together to tackle local clean streams projects. In 2011, Perdue expanded the Project Clean Stream concept to every major Perdue facility – both in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and elsewhere – to encourage associates to organize similar clean-up efforts in their communities. Since 2008, associates have harvested more than 120 tons of trash and debris from local ponds, streams, roadways and parks. 

What are your short term and long term goals?

Our goals are focused around continuous improvement in the areas related to our ”Four Ps.” For People, we set goals for improving associate safety, associate health and wellness, and retention. For Products, we set quality, customer service, and food safety goals. Our overall company Environmental Score is a measurement for our Planet goal, as well as total greenhouse gases emitted.  

Where do you think you’ll have the biggest impact?

We have formalized processes to measure and track our use of water, electricity and fossil fuels on a “per pound of product produced” basis, and we are also measuring recycle percentage and landfill pounds. There are action plans in place to continuously improve these metrics, and these activities are making a positive impact. With the addition of the Planet corporate goal, we are also seeing more awareness of the environmental aspects of our business by all Perdue associates, and more engagement by them in the management of these aspects. This is having a very positive impact on our progress towards our sustainability initiatives.  

How do you measure your progress?

Our Corporate Environmental Scorecard is a formal structure to measure, track and report on our environmental efforts across Perdue Farms against established baselines. The scorecard includes both compliance and sustainability metrics, including environmental audit results, Green Team efforts, progress toward our "Reduce, Reuse and Recycle" and "Community Outreach" platforms, and individual facility progress towards implementing an Environmental Management System.  

Additionally, we're measuring our company's carbon footprint through our direct and indirect emissions under Scope 1 and 2 of the greenhouse gas (GHG) protocol at measured facilities, landfilled waste, and all Company-owned transportation, and we're benchmarking our environmental efforts against world-class standards.

How do retailers factor into your efforts?

We've been working closely with our packaging vendors and equipment manufacturers to use recyclable packaging while maintaining food safety and product quality and meeting customer and consumer expectations for convenience and durability. Some retailers are carrying products packaged in our "Eco-Friendly" trayless packaging, which eliminates styrofoam and plastic trays. Another example is a box-lid design for a major retail customer, which reduced annual corrugated cardboard use by 1.3 million square feet.  

Retailers can feel good about a number of changes that we’ve made to reduce or increase the sustainability of our packaging and distribution. For example, process improvements enabled us to reduce packaging for our twin-pack Cornish hen product by 56 percent. A case-size change on a popular consumer product allows us to ship the same amount of product using 4,100 fewer pallets annually – meaning 187 fewer truckloads and reducing corrugated cardboard use by more than 835,000 pounds. And all of the corrugated purchased by Perdue is certified through the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. 

Why are sustainable business practices important to the food industry?

The world’s appetite is continuing to grow for more and higher quality food, yet the resources available to produce it are finite. One of the ways the food industry will be able to meet this future demand is to “do more with less” though things like Reuse, Reduce, Recycle, and by developing more efficient production and distribution methods through research and innovation. The most “sustainable” practices are those that benefit the triple bottom line – social, environmental AND economic – because economic sustainability is what will enable investments in innovation. 

Why are sustainable business practices important to the consumer?

It’s not enough anymore just to provide wholesome, nutritious, accessible food. Now more than ever, consumers care about how their food is raised, processed and packaged, and they want to know about the company behind the brands they buy. So having a strong sustainability story to tell helps consumers feel good about the food they give their families, and builds trust in a brand and a company.