Monday, October 20, 2014

Summing up Sustainability!

Novus International released the company's sixth annual online Sustainability Report just recently, this time in accordance with GRI G4 at core level.

Novus International, Inc. is a privately-owned feed ingredients company, headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S., serving customers in nearly 100 countries around the world. A global leader in developing animal health and nutrition solutions, Novus products include feed supplements, additives and many specialty ingredients that help animals digest food better and improve their well-being. All of the products that Novus develops and markets to livestock farmers, small and large, around the world have sustainable benefits - improving feed efficiency, enhancing yield and quality, reducing costs and taking high levels of waste out of the supply chain. Both in established markets that face new economic and regulatory challenges on a daily basis, and for smallholder farmers in emerging markets where Novus has developed a strong presence, this can mean the difference between a successful, sustainable livelihood and hardly any livelihood at all. A more efficient farming operation can be the key not only to surviving but to thriving for many Novus customers.

Inherently sustainable products and services
Novus delivers products and services that are inherently sustainable and improve the efficiency of the entire food chain. In the 2013 report, Novus sums up several of the positive impacts achieved through the company's core business activity. One of my favorite examples is a story about the outcomes of the C.O.W.S. program.

Comfort. Oxidative balance. Well-being. Sustainability.

Over the past three years, Novus invested in a groundbreaking study, the largest of its kind in the world, to assess animal husbandry practices in the dairy industry, and the subsequent implications for both animal welfare and productivity. Novus maintains a team of qualified technicians, who work closely with farm owners, nutritionists, herd managers and veterinarians to understand herd practices and the impacts on cow comfort and productivity. Between 2010 and 2013, Novus assessed 75,000 cows and 400 farms, some multiple times. The results provide incredible insight into performance by size of farm, region, and general management practice, and help understand the bottlenecks that affect cow comfort and ultimately, dairy farm profitability. Novus repeated assessments at over 20 farms, thereby understanding the measure of improvement that was achieved following the implementation of changes made by farm owners after they were presented with herd information. The detailed assessment data helped them understand where productivity bottlenecks were occurring in their farm management practices.

Just one outcome story (and there are many) from this massive undertaking is about a family-owned dairy in New York that, in just one year, maintained milk production while reducing culling rate, halving the prevalence of lameness and knee injuries (which reduce milk production), and delivering improved milk quality for higher-profit sales. In several cases, data from the C.O.W.S. study was instrumental in helping farmers convince the banks that there is a good business case for making a loan to enable farmers to invest in efficiency improvements. In some cases, this made the difference between farmers continuing to produce or closing up shop. This is about sustainable value delivered through the core business, and summing up the research and outcomes of 75,000 cow assessments is one of the truly interesting parts of this report.

The report also contains many other examples of how Novus, through its core products and services, has enabled enhanced customer productivity and profitability. In doing so, Novus makes a strong contribution to overall food availability and cost-efficient food supply chains around the world.

Transitioning to G4 and material focus
The report is somewhat of a transitional report, making the change from GRI G3 reporting at B level for the past few years now, to a more ambitious report using the G4 framework, including consideration and declaration of material issues and the start of a more strategic approach to overall sustainability performance. 

One of the things I have always admired about Novus and the 50 or 60 people I have got to know during the time I have been working with the company is the deep sense of vision and mission. 

People talk this. They work the vision. It's not something I just see in a document somewhere. The many sales people out in the different markets and the extensive research teams in the U.S. and Spain describe their roles and ongoing activities in terms of the degree to which they are contributing to global food security. This plays out in the many conversations I have each year with many individuals around the Novus world. 

In preparation for this report, Novus assessed the issues that matter most, starting with a Materiality Map of more than one hundred potentially relevant areas of material impact. After discussion with stakeholders and internal reviews, Novus created a set of five core material sustainability impacts that reflect the way Novus both makes a contribution and manages its own performance.

The alignment of material impacts and G4 material Aspects, as well as Performance Indicators reported, can be found in the GRI G4 Content Index.

Materiality the heart of the compass
At the heart of the sustainability priorities compass are Novus customers and the sustainable contribution that Novus makes to ensuring they do well, as shown above in the C.O.W.S. story. This is by far the most important and most significant opportunity for Novus, and, by focusing on how customers can do better, Novus does better. And inherently, the world food chain, society in general and the environment all benefit. Reductions in nitrogen emissions from animal livestock, for example, is an outcome of using Novus products. One of the challenges, of course, is knowing how to measure these outcomes, and in preparation for the Summing Up Sustainability Report, many different measures were reviewed and assessed, and this will continue to be refined as Novus moves forward. 

Sustainable animal agriculture is also an important impact for Novus. The agriculture sector, despite its critical importance for our sustainable future, faces many challenges, not least the fact that agri-professions are apparently not as sexy as they used to be. With 70% of the global population migrating to city-living by 2050, as some projections point out, the need for agriculture to be and stay state-of-the-art is even more critical than ever. With 30% - 40% of food production being wasted before it even gets to the consumer, the need to employ skilled people, science-based solutions and enabling technology is no less critical. Novus identifies with these industry challenges and accepts its role in helping attract new talent to agriculture and supporting development scholarships for many agri-students around the world. 

Employee well-being
Another thing that has always impressed me about Novus is the attention paid to employee well-being through the Novus Live Well Program. Employees who subscribe to Live Well gain many personal incentives and benefits, simple by doing things that help keep them and their families fit and healthy. Employees participate in fun, healthy lifestyle events, often as part of teams, and this also contributes to an open and interactive networked culture within Novus. In return for investment in a workplace that supports healthy lifestyles, in addition to organizational and employee productivity benefits, Novus has experienced a reduction in healthcare costs. Win-win all around.  

As always, I recommend you take a look at the Novus International report and.... yes.... give feedback!

Disclosure: Novus International is a valued client and I worked on this report, the fourth I have supported for Novus during a time of significant business change and development for the company. Each year has been fascinating and none more fascinating than the last. 

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of Understanding G4: the Concise guide to Next Generation Sustainability Reporting  AND  Sustainability Reporting for SMEs: Competitive Advantage Through Transparency AND CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices . Contact me via Twitter (@elainecohen)  or via my business website   (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm).  Check out our G4 Report Expert Analysis Service - for published G4 reports or pre-publication - write to Elaine at to help make your G4 reporting  even better.   

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