What do you get when put a baker, an outdoor industry executive and a farmer together in the same room? A diverse crowd of sustainability gurus honored by the White House this month with the Champions of Change Award for their efforts in the category of Corporate Environmental Sustainability. April is the month to recognize companies, organizations and individuals whose mission is to advance holistic sustainability practices in their community, business or organizational structure.
Champions of Change was first established as one ingredient of President Obama’s Winning the Future initiative. Each week the White House applauds leaders of a different sector or everyday citizens who are “doing extraordinary things in their communities to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world.”
Ray Family Farms
One honoree, Ray Family Farms, is the only farmer to receive the award in this category, proof in the pudding that sustainable farming is hitting the national spotlight and becoming more than simply a passing trend.
Chad and Jodi Ray of Ray Family Farms in Louisburg, NC incorporate sustainability into every aspect of their business and make it a priority to share that knowledge -- 8-10 times per week to groups of 100-200 people -- about each critical sustainability component on the farm. In these educational workshops, the Rays emphasize the importance of buying local and each person’s ability to contribute by taking part in growing food for their community or family. Chad Ray describes his philosophy that everyone has responsibility in the larger sustainable food movement, whether it be by growing a small vegetable garden or raising a few chickens, “We all have shovels, a few of us have bulldozers, but we are all moving the same pile."
Soil and water conservation is taken into consideration for all daily land management operations on Ray Family Farms, practices which include growing native grasses that support wildlife, eliminating run-off with naturally-filtering drainage ditches, annual wildlife food plots, nesting boxes and den trees for integrated pest management, and continuous tree planting. Their organic farming methods provide a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program of fresh, chemical-free fruits and vegetables to their local community. Not only are their eggs, pork and beef Animal Welfare Approved, but they make a point to raise heritage livestock breeds. Trucks and tractors run on bio-diesel and all food waste is composted.
Ray further explains,
"'We live a life based off of using clean water and good soil as the number one economic indicator instead of consumerism -- Wendell Berry!' We live a life based off being committed to the dignity and respect of animals whose sole purpose in life is to feed us; That respect is given back to us by them, by the way. We live a life where we consider it our duty to be environmental stewards of our earth and not just a hobby. We live a life where not sharing our experiences through education is not an option when it comes to children and adults about what we do, why it's important, and how they can do it themselves.”Outdoor Industry Association Sustainability Working Group
Distinguished in the same category along with Ray Family Farms was the Outdoor Industry Association’s Sustainability Working Group (OIA SWG), appearing to be the first industry-wide group recognized with the award for their collective action to help improve sustainability within the outdoor industry’s global supply chains.
The OIA SWG is an effort of over 200 outdoor industry companies including Timberland, who attended the Champion of Change White House event. “It was an incredible honor to be part of the delegation that received this award on behalf of the OIA Sustainability Working Group,” said Betsy Blaisdell, Timberland’s Senior Manager of Environmental Stewardship. “Timberland has always been proud to be a part of the OIA’s collaborative effort to address sustainability challenges and create positive environmental change in our industry, and to have our collective efforts recognized at a national level is both gratifying and encouraging. There’s lots of good work still to be done to improve our industry’s environmental and social impacts.”
The OIA SWG’s goal is to recognize and decrease both the environmental and social impact of outdoor products, innovating what they claim is the first environmental indexing tool of their industry called the Eco Index, created in order to build a trustworthy sustainability standard. OIA is currently working toward other ambitious sustainability initiatives within the outdoor industry including responsible chemical management, material traceability methods, social responsibility and fair labor.
“This recognition is a welcome validation of our industry’s commitment to promote socially, environmentally and ethically responsible business practices that reflect the underlying values of the outdoor industry and our customers,” said Frank Hugelmeyer, President and CEO of OIA. “While the OIA SWG is proud to accept the Champions of Change award, we recognize that our industry’s journey toward sustainability is just beginning. We don’t have all of the answers, but we are committed to collaboration and to finding realistic yet aspirational solutions.”
Fellow Champions of Change in the Corporate Environmental Sustainability category include Karen Trilevsky of FullBloom Baking Company, Harold Frank of Forest County Potawatomi Community, Wayne Balta of IBM Corporate Environmental Affairs and Product Safety, David Bolt of Sustainable Future LLC, and Jim Clark of IUE-CWA.
Check out other sustainability leaders the White House has chosen to honor in recent weeks in categories such as Greener Schools, Greening Our Cities and Towns and Innovators in Renewable Energy.
Lesley Lammers is a freelance sustainability consultant and journalist, focused on the intersection between the environment, food, social impact, human rights, health and entrepreneurship.