Communicating Sustainability Facts – A Case Study with Corn

Communicating Sustainability Facts – A Case Study with Corn

April 15, 2020
Shari Steinbach

By Shari Steinbach, MS RDN, RDBA Contributing Editor

Every day, consumers make numerous personalized decisions about what to eat - and what not to eat, with the issue of sustainability now weighing into these choices. These same consumers are also looking to agricultural groups and companies to provide environmental information and solutions. Although retailers are not responsible for educating shoppers about sustainability, they may glean an advantage from doing so. Communicating about sustainable food production and diet, however, can be complex and messages need to be consumer-friendly, understandable and relevant.

The commodity organization, Colorado Corn, recently created a communication strategy to tell their sustainable story to the public. Their messages will help consumers understand some “a-maizing” sustainability facts about corn. Stories will include how farmers are implementing no-till farming practices and using cover crops to help preserve the land, along with a focus on the many environmentally friendly products made from corn such as ethanol and corn-based plastics. They also share facts about corn’s role with advancing animal agricultural to help ensure the availability of sustainable, healthy and delicious animal protein products. Let’s take a look at how their approach could be used at retail:

  1. Communicate positive, compelling narratives about your sustainability efforts and products. Create a cadence of “good stories” or “did you know?” messages to communicate environmental success stories in key categories. Look for resources from commodity groups such as beef, pork and dairy, and share information like your retailer’s sustainable seafood sourcing practices and waste reduction efforts.
  2. Talk about big picture environmental issues and how your procedures and partnerships are showing positive results for these concerns. Share what your stores and other food manufacturers are doing to ensure reduced and sustainable packaging for example. Discuss compelling new food production practices that reduce the use of natural resources and provide stats when available to show the progress being made.
  3. Provide facts to address key areas of concern and confusion. For example, IFIC’s 2019 Food and Health Survey showed that half of respondents indicated that environmental sustainability was tied directly with “no added hormones.” However, in the United States, hormones are not allowed to be used in poultry and pork. Product labels touting “no added hormones” may add to the confusion. This is a topic that could be clarified by providing facts and resources.
  4. Link to national campaigns or events. Tag onto the publicity and interest around local or national environmental events such as Earth Day, to highlight what your company is doing to be more sustainable.
  5. Provide full transparency about your efforts. Promote your sustainable successes but be clear about the areas that still need attention. Communicate your plans to address these issues and your company’s commitment to keep learning and improving.
  6. Inspire individuals and families with actions that they can implement at home. Provide shopping and cooking tips to reduce waste, promote the use of reusable shopping bags and local recycling programs, and offer instructions for composting.