A decade ago, Tyson Foods frequently found itself in the headlines and on the front pages for environmental concerns – and not necessarily in a good way.

In recent years, the meat giant has instituted a number of new programs and initiatives to correct problems and reverse that trend.

Last week, Springdale-based Tyson Foods received an “A” from the Global Reporting Initiative for its latest corporate social responsibility report. The new sustainability study is the fourth Tyson Foods has produced since 2005, but it’s the first one to receive GRI’s application level “A.”

The designation represents a high degree of disclosure and transparency in sustainability reporting. GRI is a world-recognized organization that promotes economic, environmental and social sustainability.

“There’s a dozen definitions of sustainability,” says Kevin Igli, Tyson Foods Chief Environmental, Health and Safety Officer. “We try to boil it down and say it’s really about trying to do the right thing in everything that we do. We follow this four-‘P’ approach of ‘people, planet, profit, and products.'”

The four P’s Igli noted translate to several areas of accomplishment in the Tyson Foods sustainability report. They are:

  • Animal well-being: In 2012 Tyson announced the launch of FarmCheck, a program to audit animal treatment at the independent farms that supply the company.
  • Water and fuel conservation: Since 2004, Tyson has cut water consumption by nearly 11%. Through efforts to improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions, the company has eliminated more than 145 million over-the-road truck miles since 2011.
  • Nutrition: In 2012 Tyson launched nine new products that meet updated nutritional standards for school meals.
  • Hunger and disaster relief: Since 2010 Tyson donated more than 18 million pounds of food, valued at $23 million, to nonprofit hunger relief agencies across the U.S.
  • Charitable giving: Tyson has donated $10 million to support education, health and human services, families and the environment since 2010.

Igli says that meeting the stringent goals of GRI and balancing his company’s mission, while worthwhile, presents a number of complex challenges.

“We’re really working hard around water conversation,” he says, noting that the firm is working with University of Arkansas researchers to improve its business model and its sustainability performance. “Water conservation is complex because the No. 1 thing we want to do is produce safe food.”

That doesn’t always lead to conservation, Igli says. “Sometimes you have to use a little more water and if you’re trying to go for a reduction goal you may not get there as fast.”

You can listen to more on this subject in this Clean & GreenĀ radio report.

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