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Building a sustainable food system: Firsthand Foods’ approach

Credit: iStock

By Shanteya Hudson

June 5, 2024   

Building a sustainable and fair food system benefiting people and the planet is becoming increasingly important and North Carolina businesses are answering the call to put Environmental, Social and Governance practices, or ESG, at the top of their business priorities.

In Durham, Firsthand Foods is highlighting how it is tackling sustainability in its supply chain.

Tina Levy, chief operating officer of Firsthand Foods, explained how it sources meat from family farms and distributes it to local markets, reducing the negative environmental impacts commonly associated with industrial farming.

“I think that our environmental impacts are really embedded in the production practices that we require of our farmers,” Levy explained. “All of our animals are raised outdoors on pasture rather than in confinement or in feedlots and so we’re eliminating a lot of the negative environmental consequences of those systems.”

In line with its mission to sustainability, she noted Firsthand Foods also addresses the issue of food miles. Research has shown the longer food travels, the more emissions are generated to get it to consumers. In the United States, it’s estimated meals travel roughly 1,500 miles from farm to plate.

ESG is not just about environmental responsibility; it is also about how companies treat their workers and their community. Levy highlighted their commitment to fair treatment and pay for local farmers, who often face unfair market access and opportunities. In addition, she said their relationship with farmers also helps promote transparency to the customer. She firmly believes in the long run, ESG as a strategy will foster better relationships as buyers call on companies to break away from old habits.

“To me, ESG is the future of business,” Levy asserted. “I think that consumers are going to be demanding it more and more of companies. They’re sort of tired of business as usual and the negative impacts that can have so they’re going to be demanding accountability for the negative consequences of business as usual.”

Her advice is businesses big and small should consider how to bake ESG into everyday practices. A recent survey showed about two-thirds of consumers said they will pay more for sustainable products.

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