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Dole’s New CSR Portal Goes Bananas for Sustainability

Leon Kaye | Friday July 8th, 2011 | 0 Comments
Dole Pineapple Maze, Hawaii (from Wikipedia Commons)

Dole Pineapple Maze, Hawaii (from Wikipedia Commons)

Dole is one of the world’s most recognized food brands; its products include everything from salad mixes, the cheap bananas, pineapple with a crown or in a can, and of course, that retro treat fruit cocktail.

Dole is also a favorite target for critics over concerns ranging from land management issues in Hawaii, labor strife in Central America, and questions over its use of pesticides and fertilizers to grow those lucrative products. This week Dole, based in Westlake Village, CA, launched a sustainability portal to give its side of the story on issues related to corporate social responsibility (CSR).

While the portal offers information on everything from certifications to water use to the company’s history, the site is designed to share information with stakeholders and curious visitors on four main points:

Water: Water is the new carbon, and companies like Dole are wise to disclose their impact on water supplies and what they are doing to mitigate excessive use of this precious resource. This section covers everything from irrigation technologies to how it recycles water used within its banana packing operations.

Carbon: Dole acknowledges the carbon footprint its crops and food products generate, and touts several programs to that end. The company discusses measures taken to reduce the use of fertilizers and pesticides, as well as its experiment with alternative energy technologies like biodigesters.

Soil Conservation: Reduced crop tilling, crop rotation, and cover crops are just a few programs that Dole shares with its sustainability site’s visitors. Pedology lovers will spend some time here learning about organic amendments and ditch stabilization.

Packaging: Boxes and pallets are required in massive quantities to move products from farm to warehouse to store. It allows Costco shoppers to pick up 3-pound bags of bananas for 99 cents and the shipping and storage of berries unavailable to most grocery shoppers a generation ago. To that end, Dole reveals that its PET clamshell berry packs are made in plants that are 50 percent fueled by solar energy. As companies joust to prove that they can reduce packaging waste and therefore conserve resources, Dole is on the company packaging diet, too.

For consumers who are interested in what goes into the growing and distribution of their food, Dole’s new sustainability portal is a solid and instructive start. For folks deeply engaged in the world of CSR, the portal will come across as a sustainability dog and pony show. The site is designed to offer one-way communication, and hence for many stakeholders and curious customers the site is not, well, very engaging. Interested parties can contact the company, but to ask questions–Dole does not ask for any suggestions on what can be done to make the site better. To those who question the company’s labor practices (see our editor’s assessment here), the portal could come across as heavy on the public relations side. International development mavens, on the other hand, may mine plenty of case studies from Dole CSR.

Nevertheless, better some disclosure than none at all. But comments like the following will do little to satisfy the site‘s visitors who want a frank discussion of the company‘s policies:

Dole is committed to treating its employees with openness, candor and respect.

Doesn’t every NGO, government agency, or company say that?

The company could learn from companies like Intel and Timberland that push hard to really involve its stakeholders–but in fairness this is a new portal, so let’s see where Dole’s site takes us a year from now.

 

Leon Kaye is a business writer and consultant, the Editor of GreenGoPost.com and contributes to The Guardian Sustainable Business; you can follow him on Twitter.


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