The recession of the past few years may have been good for the sustainability movement.

When money became tighter, gung-ho consumers and those urging sustainable practices were forced to consider sustainability’s economic effect on business.

No company will institute environmental practices that drive it to bankruptcy. But reducing waste, increasing efficiency and keeping the land healthy have always been part of the produce industry.

The latest sustainability effort is by the largest retailer in the world, and you can bet it has good business behind it.

In late February, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. announced its goal to cut 20 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from its global supply chain over the next five years.

It wasn’t clear what this means for Wal-Mart’s fresh produce suppliers, but the concept of sustainability shouldn’t be new to any of them. Either they’ve always been doing sustainable things or they’ve begun to do them as more and more buyers want to connect consumers to the farm.

A one-day produce sustainability conference is also scheduled for April 23, the day after the annual convention of the United Fresh Produce Association. More progress should happen there but it’s unlikely any consensus will be reached.

The oft-repeated concept of “doing the right thing, not doing things right” seems like the appropriate tone when it comes to promoting sustainable practices.

We suspect Wal-Mart will have to strike a similar approach if it can call its sustainability effort a success in five years.

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