Sustainability definition depends on your lens


At any current conference, no matter what sector of the agriculture industry, the word sustainability is going to pop up.

Last week at the GrowCanada conference, hosted by CropLife Canada, there was a whole section of the agenda devoted to sustainability. Mary Shelman, of Shelman Group and former director of Harvard Business School’s agribusiness program, was one of the speakers in that dedicated panel.

As someone who spends their career focused on agriculture and agribusiness, Shelman recognizes that defining sustainability in an ag context is challenging.

“It depends on your lens. Some people think about it just in terms of the environment, others think about more comprehensively as people, planet, profit,” says Shelman.

Shelman likes to think about sustainability in two ways, one being that it continues to evolve and consumers in particular are thinking about that definition. Two, it’s a journey of continuous improvement — in an ag context it means measuring and data tools to prove sustainability, and using those data points to improve processes.

Shelman gives an international case as an example of the driver behind sustainability, in the interview below. Story continues below player:

Growing demand in the world and limited environmental resources are part of the drivers behind a global push for sustainability. The other part, says Shelman, is the fact that technology has improved, and that investors find agriculture sustainability as a significant and exciting place to put their money — Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates as example.

There’s also been a shift of sustainability into the blotter for financial markets. Environment, safety, and governance concerns are front and centre in terms of what impacts investors in the ag sustainability marketplace.

Once a goal line is crossed, striving to be more sustainable doesn’t end there. Shelman says that 60 to 80 per cent of the impact of sustainability is in the supply chain and down at the farm level.

“Maybe one of the most challenging things today is that we have data coming in from so many different levels, how do you actually fit that together in models,” says Shelman, of farm-level changes to increase sustainability.

When it comes to rewarding farmers economically with programs, Shelman says the conundrum is who will pay for it, but that there’s also opportunity — it’s not that producers aren’t doing a good job, but encouraging them to continuously improve and connecting the dots with end consumers.

Wake up with RealAgriculture

Subscribe to our daily newsletters to keep you up-to-date with our latest coverage every morning.

Wake up with RealAgriculture

Please register to read and comment.


Register for a RealAgriculture account to manage your Shortcut menu instead of the default.