Word map: Pennsylvania State University Student Centered Farm
I have been asked to post my Winter 2016 Management Report, so here it is…
What is social responsibility? We hear that phrase all the time in the media—but what does it really mean? Is it charitable giving? Is it employee development? Is it just a bunch of hooey?
Whatever you think of the definition, it is the truth that everyone in this room practices social responsibility, pretty much every day.
And I would bet that nearly everyone in this room believes that as a citizen, of the U.S. and of the world, each one of us has some responsibility to protect, and indeed to improve, those things that matter to all, or that we all share, and over which she or he has influence—humanity, community, environment, society, government.
And truly, who in agriculture has a better social responsibility story to tell than you? You may have mixed feelings about some of the personalities involved, but knowledgeable environmentalists like Allan Savory have noted for decades — well-managed beef cattle operations offer holistic health to the land, efficiently producing nutrient-dense food for our society through improvement of soil, encouragement of diverse grasslands and wildlife, and carbon sequestration.
Like Tom’s Shoes “One for One” campaign, beef has “Tons for One” value. With beef, you’re not just giving your family a nutritious meal, you’re supporting open space, clean air and water. You’re ensuring the animal that feeds you, never has to worry where its next meal is coming from, and has room to wander, either on grass or in maintained pens. (As an aside, it puzzles me that operations raising chickens in pens receive admiration and a premium, while operations raising cattle in pens get attacked by media and arsonists alike.) You’re giving deer, moose, mouse and grouse room to ramble. When you buy beef, you support an actualization of sustainable, socially responsible concepts Americans value, but don’t intimately understand.
The checkoff-funded lifecycle assessment indicates that we have achieved a 3 percent reduction in water use, a 2 percent reduction in energy use, a 10 percent improvement in water quality. These are the result of innovative thinking, of our use of technology, of efficiency.
But I keep looking through the windshield, thinking of the challenges ahead. Aren’t real solutions about much more than telling your current story — or even looking in the rearview mirror to defend what has been? What really matters is your future story, and the stories of your children and grandchildren. Because you have the power to improve and shape those stories.
After all, beef, and food, isn’t just YOUR industry, it is a public cause. And among us in the beef “cause” there are public and industry “Galahads”—and public and industry “Don Quixotes”. Many, many people care about the beef “cause”. That simply is the truth of where we are today. I know that I feel challenged daily, and even frustrated sometimes, by the demands and expectations that surround the production of food today. And I know you share that frustration. Goodness knows the expectations, and real challenges in food production are many, and growing. And it often seems like our support from society-at-large is shrinking.
Yet I know that each of you feels a social responsibility with regard to food production, because I have talked to you about it, visited with you about the civic and social issues for which you feel individual responsibility. Healthy, strong rural communities. A wholesome, safe food supply. You care about feeding our country, and feeding the world, more than many do. For example, the issue of food security is a complex global issue linked to economics, health, development, and trade. You may think it is only an issue for developing countries, and while USDA’s Economic Research Service says 86 percent of US households were food secure throughout 2014, a whopping 14 percent, or 17.4 million households, in America, were food insecure. Larger food, environment and community health issues such as this are critically important to you, your consumers, society as a whole. You actively work to address those concerns, and these concerns are shared with the rest of your beef community—your customers that purchase and process your cattle, and your consumers, the folks that cook and eat your product.
So…I know that you do, that voodoo that you do, making grass into nutritious, delicious food, out of your passion for the work, the land, the animals, but also, out of a sense of social responsibility to America and the world at large. And I am here to tell you that your consumer, particularly your largest, most powerful group of consumers, the millennials, share a strong sense of social responsibility with you.
A national poll taken about a year ago found that 9 out of 10 Americans still believe that social responsibilities like reporting a crime, understanding the national language, and serving on a jury are “very important.” The research indicated that millennials believe we must care for those around us, particularly through volunteer community service. In fact, that belief is much stronger in those under 30 years old today than it was three decades ago, and much stronger in this age group than in those folks who are more than 50 years old. This sense of responsibility to society is especially pronounced among young people, when it comes to social well-being in disadvantaged populations for core human needs like food, shelter, basic medical care and clothing.
“And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” –JFK
I ask you to take an introspective look at your assumptions and beliefs about social responsibility—because I believe this area offers tremendous opportunity for beef in particular—a unique opportunity even among other agricultural business due to the way we raise beef, and the positive impacts we have on environment and human nutrition.
Make no mistake, these opportunities translate into improved economic sustainability for us–shared social responsibility that makes great business sense.
“Many organizations have learned that cutting-edge innovation and competitive advantage can result from weaving social and environmental considerations into business strategy from the beginning. I honestly believe that the winning companies of this century will be those who prove with their actions that they can be profitable and increase social value—those that both do well, and do good.” — Carly Fiorina, while at HP
A current Harvard Business Review article on what will make businesses successful into the near future, says businesses must ensure that they contribute positively to the system while receiving benefits sufficient to justify participation.
HBR warns: Companies that fail to create value for key stakeholders in the broader system will be marginalized.
A robust business into the future, HBR says, must have leaders who ensure that the company is sufficiently diverse along three dimensions: people, ideas and endeavors.
Doing well and doing good. Well-executed social responsibility and sustainability efforts create economic value for businesses in ways that also create value for society.
Long-term, sustainable business operations.
Integrating social responsibility tenets within business decisions results in both economic value for the product or organization as well as increased value for society, and the individual consumers in it. But the incorporation of such elements, often means a completely transformed way of thinking about the business model, with an eye toward increased economic viability through betterment of social value.
Think of it this way: caring for the environment, the water, the grass, the air, and the animals, increasing production efficiency improving land and the larger environment, results in economic viability for your operations and fulfills the social requirements of the members of our food community on the eating side. Business decisions, in the checkoff and at home, that always consider the needs of both ends of the food community spectrum result in greater marketability and greater profitability.
This isn’t about a section of the budget that deals with responsible, sustainable decisions, it’s about a thought process that considers a responsible, sustainable future in every business decision. Social responsibility isn’t just a charitable act, or solely philanthropic. It is both self-interested and societally interested at the same time, assuring your own economic, social and environmental viability well into the future by way of assuring social sustainability. This may be a central shift in our way of thinking about some of the projects, some of the efforts, we fund. But a shift that pays dividends—to your operations, to the beef community and to society as a whole.
Our founding fathers knew the value well. George Washington said, “I know of no pursuit in which more real and important services can be rendered to any country than by improving its agriculture, its breed of useful animals, and other branches of a husbandman’s cares.”
And Benjamin Franklin: “There seem to be but three ways for a nation to acquire wealth. The first is by war…The second by commerce…The third by agriculture, the only honest way, wherein man receives a real increase of the seed thrown into the ground, in a kind of continual miracle.”
The checkoff, and the industry, has made progress. We continue to get better at focusing our efforts holistically. We now have the Consumer Trust Committee dedicated to building the trust, and the bridges, between the producer of our beef and the eaters of our beef—to me, this committee represents a major checkoff program focus on the responsibility that we, and our society, share with regard to food. Our Long Range Plan mentions trust repeatedly. I mentioned our lifecycle assessment–our checkoff has been investing in sustainability research and benchmarking in the form of lifecycle assessment for several years now, to understand how we can become even better at fulfilling our end of the commitment we have to society. These are critical, and strategic, ways that the checkoff is moving into the future of responsible business as envisioned by both us, and our consumers. Social responsibility also includes things like consumer engagement and producer-level animal health and welfare standards and practices, including programs such as Beef Quality Assurance and extensive consumer education programs – with consumers directly, with restaurant and other foodservice operators, with butchers and retailers, with processors, with a full range of physicians and other health influencers. And we continue to grow our Masters of Beef Advocacy program, which helps prepare producers like each of you to meet social responsibilities through transparency and active listening to consumers, adapting where necessary, then sharing with those consumers how you help meet their needs, and the needs of their families and communities, including consumer and community health and safety. These are all pointed toward constant change and improvement of our management practices and our communications.
Last year I mentioned to you that I believed we needed to advance a fundamental change in our relationship with our customers. I said society has evolved, and consumers are seeking a more direct relationship with the way their food is produced and what they put into their bodies. We will not succeed into the future unless we continue to include them in our beef community. I believe we are doing a good job of engaging and telling, thereby better including our consumers. But I believe it is time for that next logical step toward a tighter relationship with consumers—and that step lies within our ability to learn, and change.
We know, from growing our touch points and engaging our community, that we share a passion with our consumers about food and social issues surrounding food. The secret to our survival as a center-of-the-plate item in worldwide diets relies on our ability to answer critical questions. How can we focus more on creative and innovative solutions to challenges, and less on defending the way things are? How can we step out fearlessly to tackle sticky issues in our industry head-on? How can we enlarge the scope of factors we consider in our business decisions? How can we courageously embrace change, and the future, even if it means setting aside some of the ways we currently do business in favor of future gains? How can we turn information into improved strategic thinking, about future linkages between your business, the betterment of society and the desires of consumers? How can we embrace our own dedication to our economic sustainability, the viability of our environment for our children’s children and the responsibility we already feel to feed Americans and beyond, to make every decision, a sustainable, responsible, viable-into-the-future decision?
We must work to keep a holistic way of thinking on equitable footing with economic factors in every decision we make on behalf of the checkoff. This is the way of the future for businesses that hit targets on all three measures of sustainability—economic, social and environmental. Our ability to broaden our thinking will determine our level of success with our marketplace, and our success in passing our business, and our resources, along to the next generation.
So what is my call to action, for you today?
Be brave and thoughtful when faced with frightening challenges.
Don’t mistake disagreement, or even passionate, constructive discussion for combat.
Use your powers, of consideration, of dollars, of your critical role in society, for the good of all.
Consciously refrain from automatic “us against them” responses.
And most of all, remember that as checkoff leaders, you are a driving and influential force in the sustainable future of the beef industry. You can effect change. You can make a difference.