Sustainability could mean increasing efficiency. It could also mean effective land management. But one thing's clear: not everyone has the same definition.
"Many of us in the cattle business grew up thinking of sustainability as making enough money to keep ranching the next year," says Nebraska cattleman Bill Rishel. "Of course that meant we had to care for our natural resources and manage them in a responsible way.
"That's not as obvious to today's consumer," he said, "so we need to be part of this movement to redefine the concept."
The National Cattlemen's Beef Association recently completed an assessment on the topic, and issued a comprehensive report last year – including a providing a definition.
"We define sustainability as balancing environmental responsibility, economic opportunity and social diligence," said NCBA's Kim Stackhouse-Lawson. "To the producers at home, this is really about continuing to leave ranches from generation to generation, improving their livelihoods and contributing and providing for local communities."
Still, it's hard to reconcile the way each industry segment defines the buzzword and its perception for consumers.
At the recent Cattle Industry Convention in Nashville, Tenn., a McDonalds Corp. vice president of sustainability Bob Langert said that's why his company helped start the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef.
"If we don't invest in sustainability, we're not going to have all the customers we want in the future," Langert said. "We know what we're good at, and we know what we're not good at. What we're good at is running restaurants, but we need to rely upon beef ranchers, processors, the industry to figure out what sustainability means."
Langert hopes the roundtable can synthesize a common standard from the many perspectives of its members.
"Let's come up with a definition of beef sustainability for all of us that's based on science and is going to help drive our businesses forward," he said.
The GRSB's beef community, environmental and food business leaders share knowledge and resources that support sound, responsible and viable beef production. The group goes beyond reducing costs and maximizing production to focus on the environment, animal care and food quality.
While global in nature, the GRSB outlines measurable actions at regional and local levels. Key strategies include providing forums for discussion and problem solving. GRSB is the only global forum dedicated to connecting local, regional and global initiatives.
"Sustainability is a common goal of the beef community," said Certified Angus Beef Vice President of Production Mark McCully "Working together through the GRSB, we can bring all viewpoints to the conversation and help ensure the best possible care of the resources."
The GRSB envisions a world in which all aspects of the beef value chain are environmentally sound, socially responsible and economically viable.
Its founding members are Cargill, Elanco, JBS, McDonald's, Merck, Solidaridad, Walmart, and the World Wildlife Fund. For more information, visit www.grsbeef.org.