We understand that real change and lasting improvement ultimately rests on the deep convictions and commitments of individuals. Through the design of our processes and tools we are deliberate in our efforts to engage the “hearts and minds” of the people who have to lead and implement programmes of change in their organisations, be it at farm-level or retail level.
An often overlooked (and generally undervalued) reality is the pivotal role farmers play, individually and collectively, in the “sustainability performance” of any food/agricultural supply-chain. Our approach therefore places great emphasis on securing the buy-in of farmers, and developing programmes that reflect reality at farm-level. It is founded on a fundamental respect for farmers’ knowledge & solutions. A sustainable and resilient agricultural or food supply-chain is one that is founded upon sustainable and resilient farms.
Supply chains that have good “flow” are characterised by lower stock levels, higher stock-turns, lower waste and better availability. However, the shared “rules” across supply-chains, motivated by local optimisation and “silo” thinking, very often disrupt flow and impair performance. From a sustainability point of view this results in higher energy use, higher greenhouse gas emissions, excessive waste and reduced overall economic performance for everyone in the chain. Using the Theory of Constraints body-of-knowledge and Symphony software ( www.inherentsimplicity.com ), we assist supply-chains in changing their operating rules from “push” to “pull”, resulting in improved flow, better financial performance and a strengthening of the economic pillar of sustainability.
We believe that the adage: “if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it” is particularly relevant to the field of sustainability and that quantified metrics that measure multiple aspects of a business’s “sustainability performance” are critical for any business embarking on a sustainability journey. Whether it is energy auditing, carbon or water foot-printing, value-chain-analysis or our Sustainability Indicators that measure multiple dimensions of a business’s performance, these metrics provide an objective feedback-loop. This feed-back loop is critical to support ongoing learning and improvement and to enable a business to successfully navigate a complex reality.
“Strong” sustainability understands the economy as being contained within and constrained by, a finite, non-growing, natural environment. “Weak” sustainability, on the other hand, sees the environment as just one sub-set of the economy, to be exploited in support of limitless economic growth. The difference between these two perspectives and the implications for business strategy, are profound. Blue North strongly advocates the “Strong” sustainability perspective. As such, we guide businesses in understanding the implications of operating within an ecologically constrained reality, to expand their focus from manufactured and financial capital to the stocks of social, human and environmental capital upon which it depends. We challenge businesses to think beyond linear product flows that end in the accumulation of waste, to the circular flows that emulate nature and which will form the basis of the future circular-economy.
As obvious as this may sound, approaches to achieving sustainability at farm-level tend to disregard this reality by relying on a cookie-cutter approach, centered on sets of prescribed best practices. Farms are not factories that operate standardised processes of production, rather they reflect both natural variability (such as differing soil types, slopes, aspects and micro-climates) as well as human variability (the personalities, aspirations, attitudes-to-risk and personal preferences of the individuals or teams who operate the farm). These variables mean that no two farms are the same, resulting in site-specific solutions, practices and knowledge emerging. We have developed a bottom-up approach that is founded on this understanding. It is specifically designed to accommodate these variables and places great value on the solutions, practices and knowledge that have emerged at each site.
Carbon emissions of grain farming in the Western Cape