Archive for the ‘if products could tell their stories’ Category

Final Lifecycle and System Redesign Presentation

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

Now that I’ve survived finals and the Spring Show, I am finally able to catch up on my journal. Here I will to share the final presentation that I developed for my sustainable design class, If Products Could Their Stories. The focus of this final deliverable is to provide an overview of the lifecycle analysis that we carried out during the semester, and to propose a re-envisioned system that attempts to solve the most detrimental aspects of the current system.

On a personal level, the intent of my research was to gain a better understanding of the environmental and social costs associated to our current food system. I specifically decided to focus my analysis on Iceberg lettuce because it is the most popular leafy green in the US, and its popularity is largely driven by how well it travels rather than it nutritional value.

Enough with the introductions, here is a video of the presentation slides along with my voiceover. Please note that this version of the presentation is slightly longer than the one I delivered in class.

Food access and sustainability is an area of concern that I have recently become conscious of, and interested in. Here is a link to another project I have been working on this past semester along with other colleagues from ITP, it is called FarmBridge.

Dole Refuses to Share Information for Life Cycle Analysis

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

After trying to get additional information from Dole about many aspects of its process for growing and processing lettuce I finally received a response, though it was a rebuff. Before I share with you the response I received, let me go over a a few things that I found interesting about this interaction:

  • In order to contact Dole’s CSR office I had to reach out to their European offices. It seems that in the United States Dole does not have  CSR officer yet. I think this reflects all that we have read so far in class about environmental consciousness being much more prevalent in Europe, and how companies treat their customers different in these continents.
  • Dole was not willing to answer a single one of my questions, though some of them are clearly not sensitive or proprietary. I think this shows the general corporate fear of sharing information with consumers (rather ironic since this is supposed to help build trust).

Without further ado, here is my email along with the reply received from Dole:

My Email

Dole’s Reply

Dole's Response

Dole Iceberge Lettuce Source Map

Monday, April 5th, 2010

Over the past couple of days I started to build a source map for my Iceberg Lettuce life cycle analysis project. Here is a link to the website where you can find other similar maps for various projects.

Dole Iceberg Lettuce Life Cycle Analysis

Monday, March 29th, 2010

Here is the Dole Iceberg Lettuce life cycle analysis that I started putting together over the weekend. This is just a work in progress at this point.

Briefing on Dole Iceberg Lettuce

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

Picture from Flickr user smalltronicOver the past week I developed a two page briefing regarding Dole Iceberg Lettuce for my class “If Products Could Tell Their Stories”. As I’ve noted on my previous posts, I have selected this product as the topic of my Life Cycle Analysis project. Here is an overview of the assignment along with my response:

Assume that you work for ITP Benevolent Corporation, a newly formed company that seeks to provide products and services that improve human life, and the environment. We will be reviewing a number of potential products to offer, that happen to be the products you’ve chosen. But before we start offering these products, we need to understand the current situation for each – what are the key financial, regulatory, public relations, and consumer drivers. Create a 2-page briefing is to follow the following outline

  • The product you’ve chosen
  • Financial drivers (how does the company make money and how do they innovate)
  • Key regulatory issues (how does the government legislate this industry)
  • Activists/NGOs (what issues are advocacy groups targeting in relation to this thing)
  • Consumer drivers (how have consumer behaviors shifted with regards to this thing)

Dole Iceberg Lettuce Briefing

Company Background:
Dole was founded in Hawaii in 1851, and is currently the world’s largest producer and marketer of fresh fruits and vegetables. The Company does business in more than 90 countries where it sources and sells over 200 products and employs more than 36,000 full-time employees and 23,000 temporary employees. In 2008 Dole delivered revenues of $7.6 billion and held assets worth $4.4 billion.

Financial Drivers:
There are several core capabilities that drive Dole’s profitability:

  • Marketing: Dole has a strong brand and visual identity that is recognized across the United States. The Dole brand is viewed as a symbol of quality by many consumers and is the number one brand of iceberg lettuce.
  • Asset Base: Dole has a valuable portfolio of assets beyond their brand including large farms, processing plants, transportation facilities, and other land holdings. Dole’s Iceberg lettuce is produced in California and processed in Ohio.
  • Operational Infrastructure: Dole has state-of-the-art production, processing and distribution infrastructure that enables it to produce, transport and deliver perishable products around the world.
  • Low Cost Production: Dole’s asset base and operational infrastructure enable it to be a low-cost producer of most products categories in which they compete. Iceberg lettuce is one of the products where Dole has a low-cost producer advantage

There are several areas of focus for Dole’s innovation efforts:

  • Value-Added Products: Dole has increased its focus on development of value added products over the last several years. These products include salads and fruit bowls in new packaging, which provide higher-margin opportunity.
  • Operational Efficiency: Dole continues to focus efforts to increase the efficiency of their operation by investing in the design of machinery and process, and the implementation of capital improvements.
  • Sustaining and Improving Yield: Dole examines agricultural practices in all phases of production to develop specifically adapted plant varieties, land preparation and fertilization methods, cultural practices, pest and disease control and more.
  • Partnership with Retailers: Dole has sought to strengthen relationships with large retailers through value-added services such as banana ripening and distribution, category management, and establishment of long-term supply agreements.
  • Sustainability and Accountability: More recently Dole has begun to develop programs and processes to drive greater accountability and sustainability across the organization. This has been in response to consumer concerns and demands.

Key Regulatory Issues:
Dole’s agricultural operations are subject to a broad range of evolving environmental and food-related laws and regulations in the United States (and all other countries where it operates). The primary government agencies responsible for overseeing the various aspects of Dole’s business and enforcing existing laws and standards are the the US Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Here is a list of the relevant environmental laws and legislations: Food Quality Protection Act of 1996, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act.

The FDA also enforce standards regarding the labeling and safety of food products, establishes ingredients and manufacturing procedures for certain foods, defines standards of identity for foods, and determines the safety of food substances in the United States.

One interesting feature of regulation in this industry is the existence of “marketing agreements” or “marketing orders” that allow industry to create regulations that are then enforced by government auditors. These voluntary programs have recently been used to impose safety requirements to address concerns regarding frequent outbreaks of e-coli between 1996 and 2007. This has been the greatest area of concern for government regulators.

It is possible that future developments, such as increasingly strict environmental laws and enforcement policies, could give rise to new government regulations and standards.

Activists and NGOs:
Dole is a large corporation that has faced many issues with activists and NGOs throughout a long part of its history. The most well-known recent cases involve working conditions and use of toxic pesticides on banana plantations in Latin American countries.

That said, since the focus of my research is on Iceberg Lettuce, I will not delve into the specifics of those cases. In regards to production of iceberg lettuce and other leafy greens, Dole has been engaged in the following conflicts with activists and NGOs:

Organizations such Food & Water Watch have raised concerns over the recent government approval of irradiation to kill e-coli and other pathogens. These organizations advocate that the government should do more to police food companies rather than approve a method that may negatively impact the flavor and nutritional value of leafy greens.

Safety and consumer advocates with organizations such as the Consumer Federation of America have been calling for an end to the reliance that this industry has on marketing orders (described above). “We want every inspector to be paid by and owe their loyalty to the people who eat, not to the owner of an unsanitary produce packing operation. You can’t work for both.”

Dole’s operations in Soledad California has also recently been featured on an online video about safety issues and the ineffectiveness of OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration). Check out the video here at the SoCal connected website.

Consumer Drivers:
Over the past several years, consumer behavior has shifted considerably in regards to food in general. From a overall standpoint, consumers have become more concerned about their health and more specifically obesity. This has led to an increased demand for healthier foods, including in the areas of snacks where consumers are demanding convenient and healthy options.

Another general trend is that consumer’s growing access to information regarding the production and distribution practices of large food companies has led to an increased sensitivity in regards to the production practices of large agricultural conglomerates. In response, many companies such as Dole have increased the scope of the corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives.

Another important consumer specifically related to leafy vegetables is a share rise in concerns regarding the safety of our food system. This has been exacerbated by the frequent outbreaks of e-coli infection since the mid-90’s. These events have created regulatory pressure that led the FDA to send letters to the largest distributors and growers of vegetables.

The industry itself has also created their own standards for production and distribution of these foods (e.g. the “marketing orders” discussed above). As can be expected, most consumers don’t trust the industry to regulate itself so there are still calls for increased government regulations and oversight.

Many consumers have begun to look for access to locally grown foods through organizations such as farmer’s markets, co-ops and CSA (consumer supported agriculture).

Where Does Dole Iceberg Lettuce Come From

Friday, March 19th, 2010

For most of this semester I will focus my efforts on doing a life cycle analysis of a single product: Dole’s Classic Iceberg lettuce. Today I will provide an update on the first step in this project: research regarding the origin of Dole’s Iceberg Lettuce. Here I will provide an overview of where and how this vegetable is grown, and then map its journey all the way to the homes of my fellow New Yorkers.

Most of the lettuce sold by Dole in New York is grown in California in the counties of Soledad or Hotville. Once the lettuce is harvested it is vacuum-cooled or hydro-cooled and put into 450 to 600-lb. corrugated totes for shipping. I was not able to find out how long it takes from the time the lettuce is harvested to when it is shipped.

The lettuce is shipped in refrigerated trailers to a processing center in Springfield, Ohio. The trip takes about 36 hours. In Springfield, the lettuce is processed in three shifts that operate five days per week, 24-hours a day. The factory uses a high-tech assembly line to cut and sort all types of salad. Shipping continues on weekends.

About 300 employees convert about 200,000 lb. of 14 different raw vegetables per day into plastic-wrapped ready-to-eat salads of 38 different varieties. According to industry publications such, Dole’s Springfield plant meets USDA sanitary standards and features quality control measures including visual inspection for spoilage and physical defects, and daily samples tests for microbiological analysis.

These packages are then shipped within 36 hours to distribution and retail centers in New York City. All told, the lettuce travels about 3,000 miles in a period longer than 5 days before getting to Fresh Direct’s storage center in Queens. At which point, it still has a few more miles to go before reaching someone’s kitchen.

Personal Choices & Sustainability

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

A few weeks ago I interviewed my friend Stephanie Jowers regarding her purchasing habits to understand how sustainability considerations impact her choices. I chose her specifically for this assignment because she has a well-developed perspective on these matters and has been actively involved in addressing social and environmental issues since her high school days.

I have known Stephanie for many years, since the time when we were both freshmen Tufts. I won’t bore you with details, such as the year when we graduated, partially because I can’t believe how long ago it was. Here is a brief overview of our conversation. Rather than provide a verbatim account, I have highlighted what I found most interesting.

Stephanie became conscious about sustainability and the environment at a very early age. When she was just fifteen Stephanie became vegan due to concerns regarding where her food was coming from and the treatment of animals by large agribusiness organizations. Her passion for environmental causes also led her to co-found the Sierra Student Coalition along with other students, all of which played a crucial role in ensuring the passage of the California Desert Protection Act.

More recently Stephanie has started to consume dairy products and seafood though she still chooses not to eat meat due to both ideological and health concerns. When it comes to purchasing food, Stephanie always makes sure that she can trust the practices of her food purveyors. Stephanie’s primary source of food is local farmers from market across New York City.

In regards to how she approaches consumption in other areas of her life, Stephanie believes in the value of products that leverage socially- and environmentally-responsible methods of production and distribution. She looks at her purchases as investments which leads her to value quality as a more important attribute than quantity.

This means that she will often eschew brands that offer low-cost products with hidden trade-offs associated to quality, and socio-environmental responsibility. She definitely does not buy into the disposable culture that has increasingly permeated so much of American society over the last 5 decades.

The Social, Economic and Environmental Impacts of Tea

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

Men Laden With Tea, Sichuan Sheng, China [1908] Ernest H. Wilson

This is the first of many journal entries related to my sustainable design class, “If Products Could Tell Their Stories”, that I will be posting over the next few days. I am currently in a state of catch-up as I have neglected to share the work I have been doing for this class over the past months. So here we go. Let’s start from the top, here is my response to our first assignment.

Assignment Overview
Choose one product and review a published, peer-reviewed Life Cycle Assessment or Analysis, for discussion in class. What were the system boundaries chosen by the authors of the study? What life cycle stage had the greatest impact? Reference the study in your blog with a short description of the outcome.

Tea Life Cycle Analysis
For this assignment I selected tea, specifically Lipton Yellow Tea, as the product to investigate. The reason being, I am an avid tea drinker. I guess you could even say that I am a tea addict. I actually have on average anywhere from 3 to 5 cups of tea a day. Enough about me, let’s talk about tea.

The best life cycle assessment analysis that I was able to find was written by Sanne van der Wal, and it was titled “Sustainability Issues in the Tea Sector A Comparative Analysis of Six Leading Producing Countries”. This report was published in 2008 and was funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Oxfam Novib. As you can tell from the title it focuses on production of tea in general, and not on Lipton Tea specifically.

This study focuses on the supply chain and packaging of tea products. In its own works, it “set[s] out to identify critical issues and to assess social, economic and ecological conditions in the tea sector in six leading producing countries from the perspective of sustainable development and poverty eradication.”

Based on this study it seems that tea production has the greatest impact both social and environmental. That said, which specific area associated to the production varies considerably by country (for example, is the impact social or environmental). Below is an overview of the impact tea production has on these different areas.

From a social perspective, working conditions on tea farms and plantations are usually poor. Most workers have no job security and are hired as temporary labor. They have little to security net should they fall ill, become pregnant, or face some other personal issue that inhibits them from working. Discrimination based on gender or ethnic lines is also widespread. Unfortunately, there is little prospects of finding better jobs in these regions and these workers often have little to no voice as trade unions do not exist, and governments do not provide much in terms of support.

From an environmental perspective, tea production has a strong impact on biodiversity due to de-forestation for farmlands and wood that is necessary to process tea. Pesticides that are commonly used often contaminate local water and soil, and can cause potential health risks for local ecosystems. Lastly, energy use is very high as most farms use outdated technologies that are inefficient to process tea.

The tea production industry is going through a restructuring phase driven by an increase in costs of production related labor and primary materials, coupled with falling prices due to increased competition. This has led to the closure of many large plantations, which were the traditional growers of tea, and has increased the importance of smallholders tea farms. This shift brings with it many challenges as it is harder to integrate these smaller producers into supply-chains that guarantee the quality, social and environmental standards, and traceability that are increasingly important.

For the foreseeable future the costs associated to tea production are likely to continue growing due to new food standards that are being implemented in many countries. Unfortunately, the implementation of these new standards is unlikely to raise the prices, and profits, associated to tea production and selling.

Unfortunately, the majority of the profits associated to tea production are likely to continue to be funneled primarily to multinational tea packers and brokers (such as Lipton). One clear example of this trend is illustrated by the fact that “while real prices for tea on the shop shelves remained stable, average real auction prices in the years 2000-2005 were roughly half of those in the eighties.”

These multinational organizations have been slow to adopt Corporate Social Responsibility measure, in comparison to similar industries such as coffee and bananas. More recently in-company and external CSR initiatives (e.g. certified by third-party NGOs) have started to become more prevalent due to consumer demands, and government regulations.

Resources & Credits
While doing the research for this assignment I found the website for an organization named Somo, that aims to be a center for research on multinational corporations. I’m sure this will be a great resource for my future project. Worth checking out if you are trying to find life cycle analysis related to products from multinational corporations.

I want to thank ralphrepo from flickr for the image of men laden with tea, taken in 1908. It is licensed under Creative Commons.

New semester, getting into gear

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

School started two weeks ago and since then I have been “intending” to write this post. I wish I could say that I have been too busy this entire time to carve out the 30 minutes necessary to write this post, but that just isn’t true. The truth is that it has taken me a bit of time to get into gear for this new semester.

I had a wonderfully relaxing 4-week break with my wife and family, most of which was spent in warm (though not always sunny) Sao Paulo. It has been over 10 years since I enjoyed such luxurious vacation schedules, which is probably one of the reason that it has been taking me so long to get back in the swing of things. I could continue to speculate about the cause of my sluggishness, however, that I would be a boring waste of time.

Thankfully, my slow take-off is not caused by a lack of interest in my coursework. I’m excited to be back in New York and at ITP (though I have been so anti-social at school that it may be hard to notice). This semester I am taking several courses all of which seem to be pretty amazing. Here is a brief overview about each one (note: over the coming weeks I will be catching up on posts related to all four of these classes).

If Products Could Tell Their Stories
The aim of this course is explore sustainable practices, methods, models related to both production and consumption. There are limits to the role consumption can play in a shift to a more sustainable economic model if consumers are not able to access the appropriate information to supports conscious choices. During the semester we will explore how we – product developers, designers, tinkerers, and technologists – can uncover these answers and find new creative ways to communicate the stories of the things that we make (or that are made). Check out the syllabus.

Design Expo
This course has two foci – first it provides students with hands-on interaction design experience; second it builds their expertise regarding how to distill a concept into an effective pitch. The course is structured to mimic a small design shop addressing a broad problem that is posed at the beginning of the course. This semester the task at hand is to design a social service that “does good”. Throughout the semester I will collaborate in small teams to leanr how to use a people-focused approach to design a solution. In each class students we will all present work and participate in discussions and critique. Check out the syllabus.

Audio Dataflow Programming
Graphical dataflow programming languages provide a different (and some claim more intuitive) approach to prototyping projects and interactions that leverage sound and video. This paradigm is based on mapping out the flow of the data in way that mimics old analog synthesizers and that more closely mirrors our experience of media. The class will focus on providing hands-on experience with Pure Data, an open source dataflow programming environment. Over the semester I will create many patches (sketches), most of which will sound dreadful but will be a lot of fun to play with. I am also sending my wife a pre-emptive apology, since she will have to put with the brunt of it. Check out the syllabus.

Big Games
This class is a hands-on workshop focused on the design of large-scale games. During the semester I will have the chance to develop a deeper understanding of game design, with a focus on the issues that are specific to creation of big games. Course work will include analysis of existing digital and non-digital games and development and testing of various game prototypes. Check out the syllabus.