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Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is growing in importance as people become more aware of the environment and sustainability. One company leading the way is potato supplier Solanum.

 

As part of the Produce World Group, UK-based potato supplier, Solanum, is setting an example for businesses in the fresh produce sector worldwide. The company's Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programme is driving changes in the business that are improving its environmental stewardship; further developing its responsible sourcing; enhancing its workplace culture; and ensuring that it makes a positive impact on the community.

Not only is Produce World undertaking this programme without spending a fortune, it has also adopted the Credit360 system which is used to provide public access to eleven of the Group's non-financial targets via a web portal.
Produce World, which employs over 1,200 staff in the UK and Spain, is based at Yaxley near Peterborough. The original business was founded in 1898 by the Burgess family. Although the company has grown considerably since then, the fourth generation of the family is still involved in the running of the business, and the Group retains strong family values. 

As well as Solanum, the group has four other companies - Marshalls (brassicas), Rustler Produce (alliums), Isleham Fresh Produce (root vegetables), and RB Organic (organic vegetables). They are split into two divisions: the Allium and Brassica Division which covers Marshalls and Rustler, and the Root and Potato Division, which covers Ilseham Fresh Produce, RB Organic and Solanum.

Solanum itself is a supplier of provenance-sourced fresh potatoes for the UK retail market. Its commitment to sustainable sourcing, coupled with pioneering agronomy and procurement, has enabled Solanum to develop partnerships with leading potato growers in the UK and overseas. It employs just under 200 people at its site at Sutton Bridge in Lincolnshire.
While the CSR programme has three other pillars to it - workplace culture, community impact and responsible sourcing - particular progress has already been made on the environmental stewardship aspect of the programme. Targets have been set, and measurement is carried out on: the company's carbon footprint; use of energy, water, and packaging; and reductions in waste.

The group's Chief Executive William Burgess says: "We have taken real, practical measures to improve our environmental performance. These have business benefits and have not required a major investment on our part. Because the environmental measures are just one part of the overall CSR programme, we are ensuring that their implementation becomes a natural ongoing part of our workplace culture."

Implementation of the group-wide Environmental Management System (EMS) began in January 2008. The group's Business Support Centre and the Root and Potato Division, including Solanum, improved its environmental performance, enabling it to meet the British Environmental Standard BS 8555, and subsequently to progress to ISO 14001 in September 2009.
Projects which led to the achievement of these standards included initiatives on waste, energy and water management. A ‘total waste management' programme implemented across the business focused on reducing, reusing and recycling waste. Waste is now segregated at source within the group's offices and factories, and the increased recycling of plastics, paper and cardboard have led to a reduction of 43 per cent in the amount of waste being sent to landfill.

Improvements in awareness of energy usage and waste have been boosted by improvements in energy measurement and recording. Climate Change Agreements (CCAs) allow eligible energy-intensive businesses to receive up to an 80 per cent discount from the Climate Change Levy (CCL) in return for meeting energy efficiency or carbon-saving targets. All businesses within the group now have these agreements in place, and the targets set have helped to further reduce energy consumption.
With water usage becoming an increasingly important global issue, all Produce World businesses have been encouraged to become more water conscious, focusing on reducing and re-using water. Closed loop water systems have helped to reduce reliance on mains water at two of the group's sites.

In order to ensure that the values of the programme are shared across the whole business, interactive environmental training has taken place across the business, and at all levels of employees including top management. Produce World is being entirely open about the progress that it is making against its CSR targets. Credit360 is a system for collecting and displaying data on sustainability and CSR. Major companies using it include McDonald's, John Lewis, and Barclaycard. Environmental targets across the group, broken down by company, are displayed on Produce World's website, alongside information on health and safety and percentage of permanent staff employed.

Use of the system led to Produce World winning the Innovative Reporting category of the awards run by Ethical Corporation as part of its Responsible Business Summit. Companies that won other categories or were highly commended included global household names such as L'Oreal, PepsiCo, SABMiller, British Land and Greenpeace.

Burgess says: "The fact that we have received this award in the face of considerable competition clearly demonstrates that CSR programmes can be effectively implemented on a shoestring budget. We are delivering a return on investment to the business, and adding value to our customers and suppliers at the same time."

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