Adding sustainability performance to buying decisions was a focus of a recent Food Marketing Institute web seminar on sustainable sourcing for fresh food.

The Washington, D.C.-based FMI’s web seminar in mid-January featured comments by Libby Bernick, senior consultant at Five Winds International, West Chester Pa. The web seminar is available for viewing online.

Bernick said buyers should ask suppliers for both corporate and product sustainability performance measures.

“If you are just starting out, just ask a few questions of one or two suppliers and see how it goes,” she said.

One approach is for buyers and category managers to ask open-ended questions about what suppliers are doing in the area of sustainability initiatives. That, she said, will send suppliers a message that the topic is important.

Later, buyers can expand the line of sustainability questions asked of suppliers and see how to line those responses with buyers’ priorities.

For example, if a supermarket is focusing on energy saving for its own operations, it may be helpful to see how suppliers’ priorities line up with that goal.

Companies who show signs of “greenwashing” spend more time making claims than actually working on sustainability issues.

Other signs of greenwashing include offering no proof to claims and using vague words like “natural” to describe attributes.

Bernick said buyers need to ask for more information about fresh products described as “eco-friendly,” “sustainable,” “green,” and “environmentally friendly.”