The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

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

Sustainability Series: Greenhouse Delight Foods Inc.

Sustainability Series: Greenhouse Delight Foods Inc.

Sustainability

December 20, 2009

Greenhouse Delight Foods Inc. grows hydroponic bell peppers on a 100-acre family farm just outside of Vancouver, British Columbia. With 36 acres of the farm dedicated to greenhouse production, Greenhouse Delight Foods Inc. boasts one of the largest greenhouse complexes in the industry, yet they still strive to combine an old world, more intimate philosophy of customer focus with the latest innovations in vegetable production. We talked to David Slader, Director of Marketing, about the tremendous ability to influence change by example.

How does your business define sustainability?

We have adopted the definition put forward by the World Commission on Environment and Development. To us, sustainability is: the forms of progress that meets the needs of the present without sacrificing the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

How are you incorporating sustainable practices into your business?

We are incorporating sustainable practices in many ways. As a greenhouse grower we are between 10 to 20 times more productive (depending on the crop) than field crops. The design of a greenhouse allows us to deliver water and nutrients only where it is needed (i.e. to the roots). This is far more efficient than field methods where much water is wasted or evaporates. Estimates indicate we use about 50% less water than a field operation of the same size.

Also, we have built our greenhouse on land not suitable for conventional agriculture. Heat for the greenhouse is generated by using biomass which otherwise would go to a landfill where it would produce methane, a far more harmful gas than C02. Rain water is collected and used to irrigate the crops. No herbicides are used to control weeds. Whenever possible harmful insects are kept in check by beneficial insects – a system called Integrated Pest Management. All cardboard for our new boxes is made from re-cycled paper and all used cardboard is re-cycled. 

Finally, access to the greenhouse is strictly controlled by compulsory hand scanners. This helps ensure the crop is not contaminated by outside sources, which helps ensure the product reaches the market safely. 

What are your short and long term goals?

Short term:

  • Staff education and feedback. We understand how our staff can positively impact our larger and long term goals. Collecting this feedback will be completed shortly.
  • We need to prioritize our projects and focus as we can’t do everything. We will focus only on those initiatives with the biggest impact.
  • We believe we are now carbon neutral and are investigating what is required to substantiate this.

Long term:

  • We are exploring how to better utilize “unsalable” peppers. Beyond our current efforts with the food bank we are looking at both new value added products and composting.
  • We use a lot of plastic, and re-cycling this material has been a challenge because the plastic is dirty at the crop year end. We have now found a company which we believe can take the plastic at the end of next year’s crop cycle.
  • We hope to make our farm a showplace where school children can visit and learn about farming. While we already do some of this, it can be expanded significantly. Our example will hopefully help guide their decision process toward eating more sustainably going forward.

Where do you think you will have the biggest impact?

We hope to have the biggest impact in our local community. We are working on a communication strategy that will help others understand our efforts and solicit input across a broad spectrum.

How do you measure progress?

We have targets against which we can measure results to date, goals with timetables, and a team that keeps up on initiatives not only in our industry, but across other industries as well. This allows us to ensure we are at the leading edge of what’s going on. Not everything will work for every industry and much trial and error is needed to determine what works best for us. We have an annual budget so the issues are kept front and center. 

How do retailers fit into your efforts?

The ability to align our efforts with customers and retailers has a multiplier effect on the end result. While we have our own goals, we try to understand those of our customers and align ourselves accordingly. 

Why are sustainability business practices important to the food industry?

The food industry is a very high profile industry. Everyone shops and everyone eats so the industry can continually get up close and personal with every consumer. This means they can educate the consumer about their sustainability goals and strategies but can also encourage the consumer to develop and practice their own initiatives. And as large consumers of energy, they know that any significant reductions are very meaningful. Finally, retailers employ a lot of people, so they can positively impact their employees’ attitudes.

Why are sustainable business practices important to the consumer?

Consumers are getting ever smarter and more discerning about where they shop. They are always looking to redefine value as they see it. This means food companies must be on their toes – they must be leaders in areas consumers care about, such as sustainability. Consumers understand that our collective resources are finite and so will gravitate to those companies who are pursuing sustainability initiatives. Lastly, many consumers are parents and worried about their children – they understand very clearly that their children will inherit the world we leave behind, and they want to make sure we’re doing something about it.


In upcoming issues, we will feature interviews with food companies that are making strides in their sustainability efforts. If you are interested in telling us more about what your company is doing to get involved please contact Allison Bloom atallison@foodnutritionscience.com.